Thursday, September 18, 2014

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NY1's Roma Torre Diagnosed with Colon Cancer, Encourages Screening at Age 50

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NY1 Anchor Roma Torre has taken a leave of absence from the news channel after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Health Reporter Erin Billups spoke to Roma about her condition and her message to NY1 viewers.

NY1's Roma Torre was diagnosed with colon cancer at the end of July, and since then she's had a CAT scan and an MRI to determine whether the cancer has spread past her colon – which, thankfully, it has not. Those of us who know Roma know her as a very private person, despite her work every day in the public eye. But she felt it was important to use her experience to educate others.

"I have no family history, I work out every day, I eat really good foods that I know are colon friendly, and I wasn't feeling anything wrong – and it shocked the hell out of me," Roma says of the diagnosis. "But is there anything I could have done to prevent this?"

Roma's doctor, Memorial Sloan Kettering Colorectal Surgeon Martin Weiser, says no – there was nothing she did to cause the malignant tumor to form in her colon.

"It's just, genetic changes occur in the cells and you develop cancer and it's a bit of bad luck," Weiser says.

And that's the case with most colon cancer patients.

"There aren't a lot of signs and symptoms for colorectal cancer," says Weiser. "The majority of patients have none. So screening can actually find polyps before they turn into cancer and remove them."

These polyps usually start showing up in the colon at around age 50, which is when screenings are recommended.

"I did hit 50, years ago, and I kept putting it off," Roma says.

"Probably, we think that if we may have had it earlier, we may have been able to catch it before it turned into a cancer," says Weiser.

Still, the doctor says Roma's prognosis is good. In a minimally invasive procedure using laparoscopy and robotics, Weiser will remove the cancerous section of her colon.

"There's a very good chance of cure," he says. "So for instance, if we find out that it's a stage two, I would say the chance of her being free of disease at five years is more than 80 percent. If there are involved lymph nodes, then the chance of her being free of disease at five years is probably 70-75 percent."

"Still, I'm thinking, 'Oh, am I in that 30 percent range,' you know? Ugh," Roma says. "Obviously we all think the worst when we're presented with such bad news, but I am very hopeful."

To this point Roma has kept her condition to herself, not wanting to be defined by the disease. But she says she's sharing her story now as a cautionary tale.

"I've been suffering so with the knowledge that I'm dealing with a potentially terminal illness, and what it's done to my family, too, has really been very stressful obviously," she says. "So if there's any good to come out of this diagnosis and this experience that I have been agonizing over, it's that I'm in a position to share my story with people and encourage as many people as I can to get that colonoscopy, get screened."

To prepare for her colonoscopy, Roma had to take off from work, prepping the day before by drinking laxatives and enduring a liquid-only diet. But she's glad she dealt with the slight inconvenience when she did.

"It should be imperative, don't you think?" she says. "I mean, considering my situation where I had no warning signs and no red flags, and look at me – I'm going through all of this right now. But if I hadn't done it..."

Weiser answers that question. "It would have eventually grown to cause symptoms, such as bleeding, or something else," he says. "And then it probably would have been more advanced stage."

Weiser says Roma is facing either stage two or three colon cancer, which will be revealed after surgery. She'll go into surgery this Thursday and, depending on the stage, she may have to undergo chemotherapy.

All of us here at NY1 are rooting for her.

Roma's Message to NY1 Viewers

For years I was under the delusion that just because I have no family history of colon cancer; I eat healthy foods; I don't smoke; I exercise regularly, and have no symptoms, I could safely assume I would remain healthy and cancer free. Obviously I was wrong. And in fact, as I have come to discover, most cases are very much like mine. The majority of patients with colorectal cancer have no genetic history and are symptom free. There really is no way to detect colon cancer in most people without a colonoscopy which is generally recommended at age 50. I foolishly waited too long. So, I urge anyone who's procrastinating, as I did, to get screened. Nothing would make me happier than to hear someone say "After hearing your story, I finally made an appointment to get checked."

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