Colorectal Cancer Research and Prevention: Innovation, Progress and Promise

By Steven K. Libutti, MD, FACS, Director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey;  Vice Chancellor for Cancer Programs, Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences; and Senior Vice President of Oncology Services for RWJBarnabas Health. Wadih Arap, MD, PhD, Director, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital.

Go Blue NJ logoInnovation and progress in cancer research and care are the result of collaboration and resources.  This advancement also extends to cancer prevention and education, but more emphasis on these areas is needed. This especially is the case when it comes to colorectal cancer, which will strike 4,000 New Jersey residents this year according to the American Cancer Society.  As hospitals build relationships with other healthcare and scientific entities to better address the cancer treatment needs of their patients through integrated care, they also recognize the need to enhance cancer education, outreach and screening efforts in their surrounding communities.

Such is the case here in the Garden State where University Hospital in Newark entered into a partnership with the state’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in 2016. The relationship enables the recently established Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital to offer unique clinical trials, share scientific discoveries and provide expanded access to cancer programs and services to the Newark community and surrounding North Jersey region.

As healthcare leaders we often devote much of our energies into studying advanced stage disease. However, we can make a greater impact on saving lives if we focus more on  identifying and addressing cancer at an earlier stage or preventing it altogether with an emphasis on screening, early detection and education.  Thus Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey established and is leading ‘Screen NJ,’ a collaborative project of organizations across New Jersey committed to reducing cancer incidence and mortality through an effective cancer screening, education and awareness program. ‘Screen NJ’ was launched in 2017 and is funded by the state to help reduce colorectal and lung cancer incidence.

We should also strive to address challenges such as medical literacy, cultural sensitivity, access and availability with regard to cancer screenings in the community.  With data from a 2017 study (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Siegel, et al.) showing an increase in colon cancer incidence rates by 1.0 percent to 2.4 percent annually since the mid-1980s for adults age 20 to 39 and by 0.5 percent to 1.3 percent since the mid-1990s in adults age 40 to 54 – concentrated efforts on screening for this disease should be enhanced. And given the younger age range, perhaps dialogue on initiating colorectal cancer screening even earlier than the recommended age of 50 should be part of a nationwide conversation. With that, Rutgers Cancer Institute’s New Brunswick and Newark campuses are getting the discussion started by participating in a statewide ‘Go Blue NJ’ (#GoBlueNJ) initiative for colorectal cancer awareness. While this awareness is important all year long, we will use the month of March to create additional awareness opportunities for our communities, whether through doctor/patient interaction, community health fairs and even through social media posts and blogs like this one.

Instead of colorectal cancer being diagnosed at a later stage, often in the emergency room when it is too late to treat effectively, we can improve outcomes by increasing awareness and access to screening through efforts like the ‘Go Blue’ campaign and ‘Screen NJ.’  Cancer is the great equalizer – a common enemy that affects all regardless of gender, race, or economic or political status. Working together and ensuring that proper resources are allocated to continue to move the science forward we can tackle a disease that impacts so many.


Michele Fisher