Harvey H. Allen has joined the Mohawk Valley Endoscopy Center, Mohawk Valley’s first licensed ambulatory surgery center specializing in outpatient colonoscopies and upper gastrointestinal endoscopies. The center is a collaborative effort among Digestive Disease Medicine, Faxton-St. Luke’s Healthcare and St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center.
Q.: To increase awareness of colorectal cancer, March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. We understand that colon cancer is the third-most common type of non-skin cancer in both men and women, and the second-leading cause of death after lung cancer. Why is screening so important?
A.: Being screened for colon cancer is most important. All physicians in America agree — in fact, everybody agrees — that beginning at age 50, one should get screened. African-Americans should begin at age 45, as they have a higher incidence and a more aggressive form of colon cancer.
Most colon cancer is asymptomatic; that’s why it’s so important to get screened.
People say, “I feel great. Why do I need it?” But, like mammograms and pap smears, there may be no symptoms that anything is wrong. Like high blood pressure, it’s a silent killer. Most people have no symptoms and screening is the only way to discover their cancer or pre-cancer.
Also, it’s preventable. There are a lot of things you can’t prevent. But if you get colon cancer early, it’s 90 to 95 percent treatable. This is a big deal! For those who discover it in the early stage, it’s 90 percent treatable! Of those who discover it in the last stage, 90 percent die. So it certainly makes sense for everyone to get screened.
Screening is a form of prevention, not just detection, as polyps that may turn into cancer are removed during the procedure.
Q.: Does insurance cover this procedure?
A.: Yes, all insurances pay for colonoscopies. It makes sense to get it done.
Q.: What can I expect when I have the procedure?
A.: You’ll have to take a laxative the day before to prepare. During the procedure, you’ll be sedated; most people don’t feel anything at all and they have no pain. Sedation has gotten so much better that 10 to 15 minutes after the procedure, you’re awake and alert and can walk out, though you’re still not able to work that day.
That’s what I want for myself: Wake up and it’s over and I can walk out.
Q.: How often should one have a colonoscopy?
A.: You should have one every 10 years. That’s not so bad; I can do anything once every 10 years!
Q.: We understand that there are other options to screen for colon cancer. Are these as effective?
A.: Yes, there are other options now and different types of testing. I think of it like the Olympics. In the Olympics, there are three classes of medals: gold, silver, or bronze. Colonoscopy is the gold medal, the gold standard, and it is the best. That’s because if the physician finds you have polyps, the physician can take them out.
Polyps turn into cancer. So, during the colonoscopy, you are doing something to prevent colon cancer.
Other tests are a stool sample DNA, barium enema and virtual colonoscopy, using X-ray equipment. They are like the silver or bronze medal, respectively. Also, if they find anything, you still have to have a colonoscopy to remove the polyps.
However, the best test is the one you get. Just get tested.
Q.: Who is at increased risk for colon cancer?
A.: Persons with a family history of cancer or a family history of polyps, those with inflammatory bowel disease, those over age 50, and African Americans are at higher risk.
Q.: Why did you choose this specialty?
A.: Gastroenterology encompasses the liver, the pancreas, and the intestines. It’s a broad field; there’s something new every day. That’s why I choose it.
Q.: What is rewarding about it?
A.: I like to help people. I like to do things that will help people.
(Editor’s note: Allen was awarded compassionate doctor certification, granted to physicians who treat their patients with the utmost kindness. Also, he was chosen by patients to receive Patient Choice recognition.)
Q.: What would you like to add?
A.: Only 60 percent of people are getting screened. Colon cancer is preventable. It’s very treatable. You don’t have any symptoms. Just go get tested. I’m here; I’m ready to see patients.
Name: Harvey Hamilton Allen
Birth Year: 1961
Birthplace: Nashville, N.C.
Current residence: Utica
Education: Bachelor’s degree, John Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.; medical degree, Bowman Gray School of Medicine, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C.
Affiliations: St. Elizabeth Medical Center, Faxton-St. Luke’s Healthcare, Rome Memorial Hospital, Lewis County General Hospital, Lowville
Personal: Single, two children
Hobbies: Swimming, chess