Preventable disease still kills far too many Nebraskans

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

It's an easily detectable disease, and it's even preventable, yet many of us are expected to die from it this year.

Too many of us are embarrassed to ask our doctors about the disease, however, and of the 910 Nebraskans who will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year, 340 will die.

During March, the 2009 National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the American Cancer Society is boosting efforts to increase colon cancer testing and to eliminate the taboo associated with talking about the disease for the public and the medical community.

Many of those lives could be saved if people better understood the risks for the disease and got tested regularly. Colon cancer screening tests identify suspicious or pre-cancerous polyps, which can be removed before they develop into a serious health problem.

"Routine colon cancer testing can actually prevent the disease from occurring," said Mike Lefler, Director of Communications for the Nebraska Region of the American Cancer Society. "Societal roadblocks, however, need to be overcome to make this the norm. Many people find colon cancer an embarrassing topic to discuss, even with their doctors. For a variety of reasons, many doctors do not discuss the issue with patients at risk for the disease, including those 50 or older and African Americans."

The good news is that people whose colon cancers are found at an early stage through testing have a five-year survival rate of 90 percent.

The bad news is that only 39 percent of colon cancers are detected at the earliest stages. For the rest, the five-year survival rate is less than 10 percent.

Both men and women are at risk for colon cancer, but there are a number of factors that affect your risk. They include:

Age -- most diagnosed are 50 or older

Race -- African Americans are at greater risk

Personal or family history of colon cancer

Personal or family history of intestinal polyps

Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative or Crohn's colitis)

Certain genetic factors (familial adenomatous polyposis, Gardner's syndrome, hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, Ashkenazi Jewish descent)

Smoking or use of other tobacco products

Physical inactivity

Diets high in red meat

For information about colon cancer detection and prevention, call toll-free anytime 1-800-ACS-2345 or visit the American Cancer Society Web site at www.cancer.org.

Better yet, let's resolve to see our healthcare provider this month and ask him or her about colorectal cancer screening.

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