As part of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Jamaica's Queens Hospital Center held two free screening sessions in its cancer center on March 17 and last Thursday for anyone 50 years of age or older, attracting 115 borough residents, according to Queens Hospital spokeswoman Jane Petrik.Meanwhile, a group of City Council members held a news conference earlier this month to call for the continued funding of the Council's Colon Cancer Program, which in the last two years helped 2,000 uninsured city residents get screened."This past year alone the program saved 83 lives," said Council Speaker Gifford Miller (D-Manhattan), who told reporters at the March 9 event that the funding would be restored for the 2006 fiscal year."Salary should not determine life expectancy," he said.More than 1,500 New Yorkers die from colon cancer each year, according to Miller's office. Most of them are black or Hispanic, with about half being uninsured - a primary reason for not getting screened.Early detection is critical, QHC officials say, since there is a 90 percent survival rate if the disease is caught in its earliest stage. Though the American Cancer Society estimates that 56,000 people will die from colon cancer in 2005, it says the death rate has declined considerably over the last 15 years due to improved screening methods and awareness.Among those for whom the disease has hit home is Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills), whose father died at 63 from colon cancer. He did not get checked, she said, until he began showing outward physical symptoms. Less than two years later, in 1987, he was dead, Katz said."Sometimes it takes the family of loved ones to take them to the hospital," she said.The program gave $600,000 this fiscal year to the American Cancer Society, which in turn coordinated teams of doctors and administrators to hold screenings at eight city hospitals. More than 85 percent of those enrolled are black or Hispanic."We want people to view getting screened for colon cancer the same way they do getting another routine exam," said ACS Vice President Hector Batista.Vernon Oglesby, an uninsured participant of the council's program who received a screening at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx, said he could not have afforded it otherwise.As a 50-year-old male, Oglesby falls within the most vulnerable demographic to colon cancer, which is men over 50 with a family history of the disease.Councilman James Oddo (R-Staten Island) has recently proposed a resolution that would require health insurance companies to cover screenings for those in that group."I believe that health insurers in this state should be required to cover the costs of screening to save lives," he said. Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@times
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