National Colon Cancer Awareness Month attempts to widen screening efforts

March is the National Colon Cancer Awareness Month and to mark it Ferrell Hospital and Harrisburg Medical Center have teamed up with the American Cancer Society to provide free take-home colon cancer tests to anyone who is interested.

“This test will not determine if someone has colon cancer, but it will determine if further testing is recommended,” said Caleb Nehring of the American Cancer Society. “The take home test is an easy, private way for individuals to take the first step in preventing colon cancer.” From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, March 30, anyone who would like to receive a free test may stop by Ferrell Hospital or drive under the canopy at the south entrance to Harrisburg Medical Center, where people will be handing out the tests. No registration is necessary, and the tests will be given out on a first come-first serve basis.

“Individuals who are serious about preventing colon cancer before it starts are encouraged to take advantage of this opportunity,” said Marsha Oliboni of Harrisburg Medical Center.

This event is made possible from the special coordination of the American Cancer Society, Ferrell Hospital and Harrisburg Medical Center. Supplies will be limited.

Heather Morse of Ferrell Hospital elaborated on which members of the population are most at-risk of developing colon cancer. “While younger adults can develop colorectal cancer, chances increase after age 50. More than 90 percent of people diagnosed are older than 50,” said Morse.

Colon cancer hit band Alabama's lead singer when he least expected it. He thought at 42, he was too young to get a colonoscopy. Wade Hayes, the country musician best known for his No. 1 hit "Old Enough to Know Better," spent Thanksgiving in the hospital. His intestine had collapsed in on itself - a condition called intussusception.

For Hayes, the underlying condition that triggered it was stage IV colon cancer. Doctors discovered a large tumor had caused the collapse. And that wasn't the end of the bad news. The cancer had metastasized, or spread. Surgeons removed approximately 70% of Hayes' liver and more than 20 inches of his large intestine.

“You just don't expect a man in his young 40s, who was perfectly healthy in every other way, to get this kind of diagnosis,” says Hayes' manager, Mike Robertson. “There was a part of me that was going, 'Surely this can't be happening.'”

Colorectal cancer -- often referred to as colon cancer -- is the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society. It's also the most preventable. Colorectal cancer usually develops slowly, over the course of 10 to 15 years, from noncancerous polyps. Approximately 90% of new cases occur in people over the age of 50.

The American Cancer Society recommends colonoscopies every 10 years for people beginning at that age, unless they have high risk factors such as a family history of colorectal cancer or another gastrointestinal disease. Colonoscopies can spot and remove polyps before they become malignant.

“Oftentimes, [colorectal cancer] has no symptoms,” says Dr. Paul Limburg, a gastrointestinal cancer prevention specialist at the Mayo Clinic who has not treated Hayes. “The most important message is that people really should understand that screening should be done regularly. It could make a substantial difference in the number of lives saved.”

Hayes performed at the Stars Go Blue benefit concert for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month on March 6 but had trouble singing because of the chemo's effects on his vocal cords. He's eager to get back to writing music, but the chemotherapy chemicals invading his body make it difficult to concentrate.

Studies have shown that environmental and dietary factors can influence your risk of colorectal cancer, according to Limburg. A low-fat, high-fiber diet is good, as is regular exercise. “In general, things that are healthy overall, are healthy for your colon,” Limburg says. He emphasizes on regular colonoscopies to detect it early.

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.

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