MINEOLA, Long Island (WABC) -- A new campaign in Nassau County is seeking to publicize the risk factors for colorectal cancer in an effort to encourage people, including younger patients, to get a screening.
Rose Walker is an 11-year survivor of colon cancer. She's also a Nassau County legislator, and on Friday, at the start of Colon Cancer Awareness Month, said she wishes she had gone for her colonoscopy sooner.
"When I finally decided I really should go, I was diagnosed with stage 3 colorectal cancer," Walker said.
Fortunately, she has recovered after chemo and radiation, but the reality is, patients are now being diagnosed younger and younger.
In fact, doctors say, over the last 20 years, the number of those under 55 years old being diagnosed has nearly doubled.
Brienne Heinlein is among those that have been diagnosed. She's a mom of three from Brightwaters in Suffolk County, and she was only 38 years old when diagnosed.
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"It can bring me to tears still, you just don't ever think it's gonna be you," Heinlein said.
There is no doubt prevention is the best cure, yet the health commissioner in Nassau County tells Eyewitness News reporter Stacey Sager that the screening rate here is only about 65%, and the New York state objective is 80%.
So, starting Friday night, the legislative building in Nassau County will light up blue to promote awareness for residents.
"They will know, and it will remind them that they should get that screening," Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman said.
A screening that 90% of the time, prevents colon cancer from even happening.
"So, the analogy that I use when discussing this with my patients is that having a colonoscopy is like pulling dandelions out of your lawn in the spring before those dandelions go to seed," Northwell Colon and Rectal Surgery Chief Dr. John Procaccino said. "If you do that, your lawn's not going to become overrun with dandelions."
The most critical decision for public health officials moving forward is whether to lower the age of recommended colonoscopy even further.
Currently, it's recommended at age 45. But for Heinlein, she says that if she waited till 45 to get diagnosed, she would have been dead.
"I wish they would go younger," she said. "I will continue to push people to just go."
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