Monday, March 03, 2014


Colon cancer — preventable, treatable and beatable

I’ll be dressed in blue on Friday, March 7. Why? Backus and Windham hospitals will be promoting colon cancer awareness throughout the community. Did you know that in February 2000, President Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month?  The Blue Star, a symbol of the fight against colon cancer, symbolizes the eternal memory of those lives lost to the disease and serves as hope for a future free from colon cancer. 

Not too long ago Katie Couric bravely discussed her husband’s death from colorectal cancer and had her own colonoscopy taped and watched by millions. There is still not enough discussion about colon cancer and preventative screenings because people find it embarrassing to discuss the parts of the body affected by colon cancer.

Colon cancer affects men and women of all nationalities.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.  The colon is made up of the small and large intestines and the rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus. In 2010, the CDC reported that 131,607 people in the United States were diagnosed with colon cancer. 

On average, the risk of developing colon cancer is one in 20, however, this number varies according to individual risk factors. The risk of colon cancer increases with age, and most cases occur in people age 50 or older. However, this does not mean that younger individuals should not be aware of the factors or participate in preventative screenings.  Risk factors include having a family history of colon cancer or colorectal polyps, having an inflammatory bowel disease, a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

Colorectal cancer screenings are recommended for both men and women beginning at age 50. However, those individuals with a higher risk are usually screened earlier than age 50. Colorectal cancer screenings can find precancerous polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous, preventing this dreaded disease.  Screenings can also detected colon cancer in its early stages when there is a greater chance that treatment will be most effective and lead to a cure. 

The CDC numbers are staggering — at least six out of 10 deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if all men and women aged 50 years or older were screened routinely.  Although screening rates continue to rise in the United States, 22 million people have not yet been screened. Some studies suggest that individuals may decrease their risk of developing colon cancer by exercising regularly, eating fruits and vegetables, limiting alcohol consumption, not smoking and eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet. 

Remember it is important to keep open lines of communication with your physician.  Ask your healthcare provider if you should be screened for colorectal cancer. After all, colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable.

Lisa Cook is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cook or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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