Uncomfortable subject still demands action

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

It's not a subject most of us like to talk about, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't give it some serious thought -- and take some action as well.

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women in the United States, and will claim nearly 50,000 American lives this year.

In Nebraska, 950 people will be diagnosed with colon cancer this year and 350 will die from the disease.

Many of those deaths could be avoided if people better understood the risks and got tested regularly, according to the American Cancer Society.

"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.

But many people find colon cancer too embarrassing to talk about, even with their doctors. That's especially unfortunate for those 50 or older and African Americans, he said.

Although prevention is always better, early detection of the disease is the second best outcome.

Nationally, people whose colon cancers are found at an early stage through testing have five-year survival rates of 90 percent.

Unfortunately, only 39 percent of colon cancers are detected in the earliest stages, and for those whose cancers are found at the late stage, the five-year survival rate is less than 10 percent.

The American Cancer Society is working this month, National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, to eliminate the taboo associated with talking about the disease -- both for the public and the medical community.

According to the ACS, both men and women are at risk for colon cancer, but there are factors that increase your risk:

* 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 more information, contact your health care provider. Community Hospital in McCook is offering a free colorectal screening test kit through a coupon in Tuesday's Gazette, online at www.chmccook.org or by calling (308) 344-8550.

Or, call the American Cancer Society at (800) ACS-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

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