SIKESTON - The second leading cause of death in the U.S., colon cancer will claim nearly 57,000 American lives this year.
It's also the second leading cause of cancer death in Scott County.
Yet, it can easily be prevented. During Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month in March, local groups are joining efforts with the Scott County Coalition Against Cancer and the American Cancer Society to give residents one less excuse for not going for a screening.
A $1,400 donation from the Sikeston Jaycees has made it possible for the local coalition to purchase 1,400 fecal occult blood test kits whose results will be interpreted by labs at Missouri Delta Medical Center and Ferguson Medical Center.
The free kits are available for Scott County residents ages 50 and older. They can be picked up at Kmart, Medical Arts, Medicap in Sikeston, Chaffee and Scott City, The Medicine Shoppe, Randy's RX, Super D, Wal-Mart, Scott County Health Department offices in Sikeston and Benton and MDMC.
In an added effort to help the ACS educate the public about colon cancer, the Lions Club has made a $300 donation toward the Colorectal Cancer Awareness Campaign and letters will be sent to businesses inquiring if they would like to have kits on site for their employees. There is also an opportunity for a short educational program to be presented.
According to the ACS, colon cancer develops in the colon or rectum and can grow for up to 10 years before it is detected. Before a cancer develops, there are often earlier changes in the lining of the colon or rectum. One type of change is a growth of tissue called a polyp. Screening tests identify suspicious or precancerous polyps, which can be removed before developing into a serious health problem.
The ACS stresses many lives could be saved if people better understood the risks for the disease and were tested regularly. "As with any cancer, people tend to think it won't happen to them," said Robin Stoner, cancer control specialist. "Recently, there has been much public awareness about others cancers, lung, breast, prostate. Colorectal cancer is just not as talked about."
Beginning at age 50, the ACS recommends men and women follow one of several testing options: FOBT, flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, yearly FOBT and flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years and preferred over either option alone, double contrast barium enema every five years and colonoscopy every 10 years.
Individuals with a personal or family history of colon cancer, of intestinal polyps, of inflammatory bowel disease or certain genetic factors should begin colon cancer testing earlier and/or undergo testing more often.
Other risk factors associated with colon cancer include age, race, the use of cigarettes and other tobacco products, physical inactivity and diet.
"Routine colon cancer testing can actually prevent the disease from occurring," said Dr. Robert C. Young, national volunteer president of the ACS. "Societal roadblocks, however, need to be overcome to make this the norm. Many people find colon cancer an embarrassing topic to raise, 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 and older and African Americans."
The ACS points out preventing colon cancer altogether through testing is the ideal outcome, but early detection of the disease also has important health benefits. Nationally, people whose colon cancers are found at an early stage through testing have five-year survival rates of 90 percent.
However, only 37 percent of colon cancers are detected in the earliest stages. Of those whose cancers are found at the late stage, the five-year survival rate is less than 10 percent.
"The idea of having a screening test is typically not something people want to think about, much less talk about," remarked Stoner. "But the screenings are not painful and could very well mean saving your life. It's easier to remove a polyp than to remove your entire colon. If caught early enough, the polyp can be removed with surgery and usually chemotherapy and radiation is not required."
For more information on the free test kits or on colorectal cancer contact the local ACS office at 471-1823.