By Kimberly Allbritton
Director, Jefferson County Health Dept.
In February 2000, President Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It has grown to be a rallying point for the colon cancer community where thousands of survivors, patients, advocates, and caregivers throughout the United States join to spread awareness.
Colorectal Cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Each year, approximately 140,000 Americans get colorectal cancer, and it causes more than 50,000 deaths. The risk of colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90 percent of colorectal cancers occur in people that are 50 or older.
Over the last 7 years in Jefferson County there have been 27 colorectal cancer deaths. Of those deaths, 15 were white, non-Hispanic and 12 were black or other race. There were no Hispanic deaths.
Symptoms are not always present with precancerous polyps, or colorectal cancer. You could have polyps or colorectal cancer and be unaware of it. If you have symptoms, they may include:
• Stomach pain, cramps (constant), or aches
• Weight loss
• Blood in or on stool
These symptoms can be caused by something other than cancer, but it is important to see your doctor if you are experiencing any of them.
If you are between the ages of 50 and 75, it is important for you to have regular colorectal cancer screenings. If you are 50 and younger but believe you may be at risk, ask your doctor if you should be screened.
Screening can make a difference!
By Tara Loucks, APRN
Clinical Director of Capital Health Plan’s Colon Screening Program
Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers in America, with the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimating that there will be more than 100,000 new colon cancer cases and over 40,00 new rectal cancer cases in 2019. Historically, colon cancer has been the third most common cancer in both men and women, and it remains so today.
Because March is National Colon Cancer Awareness month, there’s no better time to help educate our community about the disease and shed light on why screenings — which many people avoid — are so very important.
While you may already be aware of the importance of colon cancer screenings, you may be among the large number of Americans who avoid screenings anyway. According to research by the American Cancer Society, some of the top reasons people avoid getting tested include: hearing the test was difficult or painful; concerns about the cost of the test; and the thought that they don’t have to get tested because there is no family history of colon cancer.
These concerns are largely unfounded, though. The idea of a colonoscopy may be a little uncomfortable, but the actual procedure is not, and the life-saving benefits are very real. Also, most insurance companies, including Capital Health Plan, cover the cost of the test entirely.
Even if you don’t have the high-risk factors — family history, personal history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, having received radiation to the abdomen or pelvic area, or a history of other types of cancer — you are still at average risk of contracting colon cancer. Many major groups, including the American Cancer Society, recommend screening for all people beginning at age 45. Following this guideline can save your life.
On Friday, March 1, many members of our Tallahassee community participated in “Dress in Blue” day to draw much-needed attention to colon cancer and generate conversations about what steps people can take to be proactive in their health and prevent the development of cancer.
Colon cancer can be a silent killer. According to the American Cancer Society, once you begin to feel the symptoms of colorectal cancer, it’s often very advanced and more difficult to effectively treat. However, if colorectal cancer is detected early on, the survival rate is actually 90 percent. This is why it’s so critical to take care of yourself and do the screenings.
This March, I encourage you to take part in Colon Cancer Awareness Month by sharing with friends and family the importance of colon cancer screening and, most importantly, getting yourself screened.