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St. Luke’s Is Moving the Needle on Early Colorectal Cancer Detection

What do Melania Trump, Matt Damon, and Naomi Campbell all have in common? They turn 50 this year, and just like millions of other individuals around the world, they will be due for their first screening colonoscopy.

One in 23 people will develop colon or rectal cancer in their lifetime, making it the fourth most prevalent cancer type after lung, breast, and prostate. When detected early, colorectal cancer is treatable in about 90 percent of cases. The key is screening compliance.

Fighting colorectal cancer

St. Luke’s University Health Network is taking on the colorectal cancer challenge by prioritizing colon cancer screening across its large network of 11 hospitals and more than 300 outpatient sites throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

“It’s a team approach,” states Nicholas Taylor, M.D., chairman of oncology for St. Luke’s Cancer Center. “Our oncology team, our gastroenterology team, and our primary care providers are working together to really hammer home the importance of preventive screening.”

Screening options

Patients over 50 who are seen at St. Luke’s are evaluated for one of three screening tools: colonoscopy, fecal immunochemical test (FIT), or Cologuard®. If they meet the criteria, they are connected with the appropriate information and instructions to schedule a test.

“We really want to be able to move the needle on this particular initiative,” states Dr. Taylor. “We know that it can potentially save lives.”

A quality study, conducted by a group of St. Luke’s medical students and residents, showed an ability to positively impact the colorectal screening rate in a clinic population through education and access. St. Luke’s medical students and residents were able to double the number of screenings in some locations, going from 22 percent screening rate to 53 percent compliance.

Patient-focused

According to Dr. Taylor, this type of initiative and research-focused work is at the heart of St. Luke’s mission, which always puts the patient first.

Ellen Chwastyk, a stage III colon cancer survivor, is grateful for the patient-centered care she received at St. Luke’s. A busy mom, grandmother, and title agency employee, Chwastyk put off her colonoscopy until she experienced unexpected bleeding at age 59. By then, two tumors were discovered, and she needed a variety of treatments including chemo, radiation, and surgery. 

Today, Chwastyk is getting ready to celebrate her fourth year of being cancer-free and credits her quality of life to her doctors at St. Luke’s as well as diligent follow-up. She is a fierce advocate for screening and organizes her company’s “Wear Blue” day each March to promote awareness.

“Don’t be too busy to take care of yourself,” Chwastyk cautions. “Going undiagnosed and having a later stage cancer is far worse than going through one day of prep for the colonoscopy. Get screened; it could save your life.”

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