Contributed by Western Baptist Hospital
Harriet Byers, coordinator of the Center for Digestive and Pulmonary Health at Western Baptist Hospital, stands at the entrance to the Incredible Colon exhibit during last year's National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The 20-foot long exhibit shows the transition from a healthy to cancerous colon, and will be on exhibit at Western Baptist Hospital on March 15, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Although it’s proven to be one of the most deadliest forms, colorectal cancer is preventabe, if detected early enough, health-care providers say.
With millions of people donning their favorite blue attire Friday to show their support for people fighting the disease, the kickoff to National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month not only promotes education about the causes of the disease, but the necessity of early detection.
Jamie Smith, cancer control specialist with the Kentucky Cancer Program, said more than 2,600 Kentuckians are diagnosed with colon cancer each year and nearly 900 die from the disease.
“We want to educate people on the under use of screening,” Smith said. “A lot of people are scared and don’t want to talk about the disease or screening process, but just being able to discuss it all and be more aware helps.”
The fact that there’s no solid evidence that can clearly pinpoint the cause of colon cancer — unlike how lung and skin cancer are commonly attributed to smoking and over exposure to the sun, respectively — makes the disease more fearsome.
Generally, the disease begins as a single cell mutation along the lining of the colon or rectum, developing into an abnormal growth known as a polyp. If left unchecked, the cancerous growth can spread beyond the lining of the colon, migrating into lymph nodes (Stage III colon cancer) or distant organs (Stage IV colon cancer).
If colon cancer is found at an early stage, the five-year survival rate run as high as 90 percent. If the cancer isn’t located until the distant stages, the five-year survival rate plummets, to numbers as low as 12 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
Smith said the gold standard for colon cancer screening remains colonoscopies, though additional screenings are available. Someone who might not have the insurance to cover a colonoscopy could obtain a fecal occult blood test from a local health department to screen for telltale signs of cancerous growth, such as blood in the stool.
Harriet Byers, coordinator of the Center for Digestive and Pulmonary Health at Western Baptist Hospital, said while colonoscopies and the prep associated with the procedure are not fun for anyone, the screening provides the most in-depth, preventive treatment available. And in recent years, advancements in imaging have made the procedure even more effective.
Scopes and imaging devices with high-definition cameras provide the clearest picture for locating and removing polyps during the procedure.
“We’ve had them for a couple of years, and it’s getting to be standard, but you can imagine how clear and crisp the picture comes in, and how we can react with that clearer picture,” Byers said.
Narrow-band imaging also provides doctors with a newer way to recognize polyps by shining a bright blue or white light in the colon to highlight blood vessels and developing polyps. The benefits of the procedures more than outweigh the downside of colonoscopy prepping, Byers said.
“You can save so many people’s lives so that they’ll never go through chemo or radiation because we can prevent cancer from even happening,” Byers said.
The recommended age for beginning screenings is 40, though if there’s a family history of colon cancer, screenings should begin around 30, according to the cancer society.
To promote awareness for the disease, the Kentucky Cancer Program plans several events throughout western Kentucky, including a 20-foot-long inflatable colon exhibit at various locations. The exhibit travels to Murray, Mayfield and Benton before coming to Paducah at Western Baptist Hospital on March 15 and concluding at Lourdes hospital on March 21.
Call Will Pinkston, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.