Second-year medical student Michelle Bernshteyn has organized a fundraiser for colon cancer, but it’s not the money that’s important.
Michelle is more focused on increasing awareness of the disease and the importance of screening.
“Everything surrounding colon cancer screening and treatment is not glamorous, and that’s an issue,” said Michelle, whose efforts include a dinner at the Melting Pot in Destiny USA Feb. 11.
Colorectal cancer was expected to claim almost 50,000 lives in the United States in 2015, according to the American Cancer Society. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women.
Those figures are more than just statistics to Michelle.
On her father’s side, an uncle in Germany died of colorectal cancer in 2008, sparking her interest in gastroenterology. He was never told about screening and never had a colonoscopy, she said.
On her mother’s side, an aunt died of colon cancer and an uncle has recently been diagnosed with the disease.
In high school on Long Island and as a student at Binghamton University, Michelle shadowed gastroenterology specialists. At Upstate, after she takes the required clerkships next year and earns her MD in 2018, she may pursue internal medicine as a specialty.
Colonoscopies are routine procedures, although the risks of significant bleeding or perforation, while low, shouldn’t be disregarded, Michelle said. Those risks, and the unpleasant preparation the day before the outpatient procedure, likely contribute to reluctance to undergo a colonoscopy, Michelle said.
The American Cancer Society estimates that only about half of those eligible for colorectal cancer screening get the tests that they should.
“This may be due to lack of public and health professional awareness of screening options, financial barriers, and inadequate health insurance coverage and/or benefits,” according to the society.
Michelle wanted to find some way to increase awareness and, she hopes, increase the number of people getting screened. (March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month.)
When Michelle learned of the Melting Pot’s policy of supporting a different charitable cause each month, she contacted the Destiny USA restaurant, which agreed to support her efforts in February.
A fundraising dinner at the Melting Pot is set for 6 p.m. Feb. 11, with $7 from each guest’s check going to the Colon Cancer Challenge Foundation. Sign up for the dinner here. There also is a GoFundMe page for the foundation, which has supplied T-shirts and other fundraising materials.
Michelle also is selling $50 gift cards from the Melting Pot that must be used during February, with $5 from each card going to the Colon Cancer Challenge Foundation. All month, the Melting Pot will leave a line on the bottom of the check for anyone to donate.
But the message Michelle is sharing may have more of an impact than the money. She is encouraging her classmates to tell three family members or friends of screening age to get colonoscopies.
“As medical students, we will be more trusted by our loved ones,” she said.
American Cancer Society, United States data
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women.
The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20 (5%). This risk is slightly lower in women than in men.
Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths when men and women are considered separately, and the second leading cause when both sexes are combined.
(The American Cancer Society projected 93,090 new cases of colon cancer and 39,610 new cases of rectal cancer for 2015, with colorectal cancer expected to cause about 49,700 deaths.)
The death rate from colorectal cancer has been dropping in both men and women for more than 20 years, in part because polyps are being found by screening and removed before they can develop into cancers.
Screening allows more colorectal cancers to be found earlier when the disease is easier to cure. There are now more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.