Retired Tupelo gastroenterologist uses remission to encourage screenings

Retired Tupelo gastroenterologist uses remission to encourage screenings

JACKSON, MS (WDAM) -  This is a news release from the University of Mississippi Center Division of Public Affairs 

After getting the all-clear on a colonoscopy performed in 2000 when he was 50, retired Tupelo gastroenterologist Dr. Sam Pace got an ironic shock on a follow-up screening in 2011: He had colon cancer.

"For my entire life, I've been on the business end of a colonoscope, doing screening colonoscopies. I've performed about 20,000 over 34 years," said Pace, who was 61 when diagnosed, was experiencing no symptoms, and had no family history of colon cancer. "But, I was practicing what I preached, and it was time to have the next screening. I wouldn't be standing here today if I hadn't had that screening.

"I am not cured. I'm in remission," said Pace, former president of the Mississippi Gastrointestinal Society and Mississippi's governor for the American College of Gastroenterology. "And if I hadn't caught it so early, I wouldn't even be in remission."

Pace is among Mississippians from every part of the state who are encouraging family and friends to be screened for colorectal cancer, which is most treatable when discovered early. Mississippi has the highest colorectal cancer death rate in the United States, and colorectal cancer is also the second leading cause of cancer death in Mississippi.

"Our ultimate goal is to save lives and spare them the physical, mental and financial cost of treating colon cancer," said Dr. Srinivasan Vijayakumar, director of the University of Mississippi Medical Center Cancer Institute and chairman and professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology. "Every death from cancer is one too many."

As the nation observes Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a number of leaders in the cancer-fighting community gathered today at the Mississippi Capitol to champion the 70X2020 Colorectal Cancer Screening Initiative. That program has a goal of ensuring at least 70 percent of Mississippians are up to date with recommended screening by the year 2020. It's recommended that the first screen for colon cancer occur at age 50, with a second screen 10 years later. If there's a family history of colon cancer, a screen every five years is recommended. The screening is recommended for African Americans at age 45.

"Screening is so important, because it can lead to the prevention or early treatment of colorectal cancer. During the screening process, precancerous lesions can be located and removed," said State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier.

"This is one of those screenings that should not be put off. With screening, you can avoid colorectal cancer altogether."

There are simple and affordable tests available, and if you're 50 or older, you should be screened, said Dr. Roy Duhe, associate director for cancer education at the Cancer Institute and an organizer of the 70X2020 effort. Many private insurance companies offer coverage; ask your insurance company how much you should expect to pay. Medicare covers a number of colorectal cancer screenings for those 50 and over.

The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2015, 1,460 Mississippians will be newly diagnosed with colon cancer and 640 will die of it. Compare that to ACS estimates of 40,730 Mississippians being newly diagnosed with breast cancer and 410 dying of it, or of 2,150 men being newly diagnosed with prostate cancer and 300 dying of it.

An estimated 58 percent of Mississippians who are eligible for a colorectal cancer screening get one. "How great it would be, and how many colon cancers would we prevent, if that number were approaching 80 or 90 percent," Pace said. "That's what the 70X2020 initiative is all about."

"Early detection of cancer can save your life," said Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. "I thank UMMC, the Mississippi State Department of Health and leaders in the health care community for helping spread the word and for encouraging Mississippians to be screened for cancer."

The 70x2020 Initiative is aligned with the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable, a coalition of public, private and voluntary organizations working to lower colorectal deaths. The Roundtable has a goal of seeing 80 percent of eligible U.S. residents screened by 2018.

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To learn more about colorectal cancer screening, click here:

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