ACS Challenge: Commitment to Colon Care

by | Feb 21, 2018 | Community

Usually when I talk about a colon, I’m explaining how to use it correctly in a sentence. In this instance, if a student misunderstands or misuses it, the stakes are not high. Grammatical errors may be annoying or embarrassing, but they are not life-threatening. In certain contexts, however, misunderstanding a colon can be life-threatening. This month, designated Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month by the American Cancer Society, is a good time to review information about our colons, learn about the symptoms of Colorectal Cancer (CRC), and implement strategies to prevent it.
Cancer is characterized by abnormal cell growth and division in the colon or rectum. Colorectal Cancer usually begins with a noncancerous growth called a polyp. These polyps develop slowly on the inner lining of the colon or rectum over the course of 10-20 years. The most common type of polyp, an adenoma, will develop in one-third to one-half of all individuals, but fewer than 10% of these ever progress to invasive cancer. Nonetheless, according to research from the American Cancer Society, 96% of all colorectal cancers develop in the inner lining of the colon or rectum.
Risk factors for CRC include age (the median age for diagnosis in men is 68 and for women is 72), gender (incidence rates are 30% higher in men), family history (about 30% of CRC patients have a family history of the disease), and a Western/sedentary lifestyle. A recent study by the American Cancer Society found that maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active, limiting alcohol consumption, and eating a healthy diet reduce the risk of CRC by more than one-third (37 percent).
At its early stages, CRC often has no symptoms, so screening is important. As the tumor grows, symptoms may occur such as constipation or diarrhea, dark or black stools, bleeding, cramping in the lower abdomen, or fatigue due to anemia. It’s important to detect these symptoms as early as possible by monitoring our bodies and noticing changes in bowel habits. In addition, it’s recommended that all adults with average risk have a CRC screening starting at age 50.
Retired UCLA oncology nurse and rectal cancer survivor Donna Ashmore says that she is a testament to early detection. She noticed a symptom, knew that she had a family history of CRC, and had it checked out immediately. Ashmore explains, “So often people are afraid to know, and their fear prevents them from making that appointment.” She urges people to “be prudent and know their family histories, to be really aware of their bodies and not disregard symptoms.” Since this is a disease that occurs with more frequency as we age, the older we get, the more aware we must be.
Several years ago, the ACS, in conjunction with the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, launched a nationwide campaign, “80 percent by 2018.” Its mission is to have 80 percent of adults aged 50 or older screened for Colorectal Cancer by the end of this year. It is predicted that increasing screening rates to 80 percent by 2018 would reduce new colon cancer cases by 17 percent and death rates by 19 percent by the end of 2020. By 2030, colon cancer incidence rates would drop by 22 percent and death rates would drop by 33 percent. Those reductions add up to the prevention of 277,000 new colon cancers and 203,000 colon cancer deaths from 2013 through 2030.
The ACS staff is working with hospitals and healthcare programs nationwide to remove financial and logistical barriers and to increase CRC screening rates. Join the movement and be part of the 80% by 2018! Make your screening appointment today.
For further information about colorectal cancer, visit the American Cancer Society’s website at www.cancer.org.
Mary Petersen is an English Instructor, longtime SCV resident, and two-time breast cancer survivor. 

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