Accessibility links

Doctors Give President Bush Clean Bill of Health

President Bush recently (Saturday, July 21) had five small growths removed from his colon. The growths, or polyps, were found during a routine colon cancer scan. The growths were small and turned out to be benign (non-cancerous). Carol Pearson has more on colon cancer and research on new screening techniques. Melinda Smith narrates.

The same week President Bush had a procedure called a colonoscopy to see if he had any cancerous or pre-cancerous grows -- a well known American evangelical broadcaster died of colon cancer. Her name was Tammy Faye Messner.

Mrs. Messner was on a popular CNN program shortly before she died. "When I leave this earth - because I love the Lord - I am going straight to heaven."

Tammy Faye Messner is one of 600,000 people who will die of colorectal cancer this year according to figures from the World Health Organization.

Colorectal cancer strikes the large intestine and the part of the colon that leads to the rectum. It is the fourth most common type of cancer.

But, if it is caught early, proper treatment almost always leads to a complete cure.

Doctors removed five polyps, or growths, during President Bush's procedure. Gastroenterologists say finding polyps during colonoscopies is quite common.

Dr. Roshina Rajapaksa, of New York University Medical Center, says, "We're really looking to stop colon cancer before it starts, so when we find a polyp, which is a pre-cancerous growth, we remove it so it doesn't have a chance to grow into a cancer."

She recommends people should have regular colonoscopies starting at age 50 and then every 10 years after that. People who have polyps need more frequent screening.

In the United States, death rates from colorectal cancer have fallen. Experts attribute it to earlier detection and improved screening.

Recently, researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, Maryland, found that proteins in the blood may identify the cancer. Scientists examined blood samples from seemingly healthy people before their colonoscopies and compared them to blood samples from people with colon cancer.

They used a particular protein as a marker for the disease and were able to tell -- with 100 percent accuracy -- who had the cancer and who did not. The researchers were also able to identify which seemingly healthy people had pre-cancerous growths.

A colonoscopy is currently the most accurate test for colon cancer. But a blood test may one day become another screening option.