The LookOut  
Health News  A service of Saint John's Health Center

Early Detection Is Key to Colon Cancer Treatment

You may be surprised to learn that (with the exception of skin cancers) colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer found in U.S. men and women. Yet, according to the American Cancer Society, less than half of Americans age 50 and over have undergone a colonoscopy to detect the disease, which affects the colon and rectum.

“Early detection is key to the treatment of colon cancer because the disease is completely curable if caught early enough,” says Lee S. Rosen, M.D., a medical oncologist at Saint John’s Health Center.

A leading specialist in the treatment of GI (gastrointestinal) malignancies such as colon cancer, Dr. Rosen serves as the principal investigator of numerous clinical trials focusing on new cancer drug development. He recently relocated his practice group, now called Premiere Oncology, to Saint John’s and is working in coordination with Saint John’s surgeons, oncologists and GI specialists to establish a new GI cancer program at the Health Center.

“This is an exciting time for us because there have been a number of significant advances in the treatment of colon cancer recently, including the approval of four new drugs by the FDA in just the last two years,” says Dr. Rosen.

“In addition, we are currently involved in about 20 ongoing clinical trials for many types of cancer treatments, including digestive system cancers, so there has been an explosion of research in this area,” he says. “In some of these trials, we are the only site testing the drug and, in others, we are part of a multi-center study.”

Due to advanced treatments and early detection, the number of deaths from colorectal cancer has been declining for the past 15 years, according to the American Cancer Society.

But how do you know if you have colon cancer?

“Unfortunately, once the disease presents, the symptoms can be so vague and non-specific that many people are unaware that colon cancer might be the culprit,” Dr. Rosen says. As a result, you should talk to your physician as soon as possible if you suffer from any of the following symptoms:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Blood in the stool
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Abdominal pain

Regular screenings are also crucial to help detect the presence of polyps (small, usually benign tumors) in the colon early in the disease, before it spreads to other areas of the body.

“People ages 50 and older should have a colonoscopy every three to five years and undergo an annual screening for blood in their stool,” advises Dr. Rosen. “In addition, people with a family history of colon cancer should begin their screenings, including a colonoscopy, at age 40. People with other major risk factors, including diseases such as ulcerative colitis, should begin in their early 20s.”

For more information about Premiere Oncology, you can contact Dr. Rosen at 310-633-8400.

To learn more about Saint John’s Health Center, please call Saint John’s at (310) 829-5511 or visit the health center’s website at

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