Thursday, March 3, 2005
Early detection of this cancer will save your life

By Melinda Huffman, RN
Colorectal Cancer Screening Advocate

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It is a collaborative effort to increase awareness that colorectal cancer is largely preventable, treatable and beatable through regular screenings, a healthy lifestyle and expert clinical care. Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women combined. The disease surpasses both breast and prostate cancer in mortality, second only to lung cancer in numbers of cancer deaths. Despite the fact that it is highly preventable, approximately 146,940 new cases of colorectal cancer were diagnosed in 2004 and 56,730 people died from the disease. No one likes the thought of cancer — especially colon cancer. The truth is that many otherwise health-conscious adults are just too embarrassed or afraid to talk about it. Unfortunately, this silence has allowed colon cancer to become quite common in our society. Did you know that colon cancer is now the leading cause of cancer deaths in nonsmokers? Only lung cancer is more deadly. The month of March has brought this “silent killer” to the attention of millions of Americans, and rightly so. Once the facts are out in the open, once everyone is aware of the potential dangers, once the fear of embarrassment is gone, this deadly killer will be stopped. The slogan for this year is no longer “the disease no one talks about.” It is talked about across the country and on national television. Colorectal cancer is curable, it is beatable and it is preventable. Colon cancer is a malignant growth that occurs on the inner wall of the colon or the rectum. It is now known that colon cancer usually begins many years earlier as a small noncancerous growth called a polyp, which grows on the inner wall of the colon. Nobody knows what causes polyps to grow and why some people get them and others do not, but genetics probably plays some role. We do know that over time some polyps will grow larger until they develop into colon cancer. Although there are always exceptions, current data suggests that this malignant transformation is slow and may take as long as five years or even longer. Who is at risk for colorectal cancer? We all are. While there are certain risk factors, such as family history of colon cancer that may increase your personal risk, the truth is that over 75 percent of cases have no unusual risk factors to warn them. In fact, about one in 20 adult Americans now develop cancer of the colon in their lifetime. As an example, if you went to a Shorebird’s Baseball game and saw about 16,000 other cheering fans there, realize that about 800 of them will have colon cancer in their future. It is very common. Despite a popular misconception, colon cancer is also an equal opportunity disease — men and women are equally affected. Most cases occur after the age of 50 and the risk increases with age. The most common symptom of colon cancer is no symptom at all. That is the problem. You could have a polyp, or even early cancers, growing in your colon right now as you read this, but you are feeling perfectly fine. There are no symptoms such as pain, bleeding, or change in bowel habits to warn you — until it is too late. By the time that a colon cancer is large enough to change your bowel habits, it may already be too late. Left undetected, colon cancer eventually penetrates through the outer colon wall and spreads to other organs, most often lymph nodes and the liver. Then you have symptoms and real trouble. That is why, despite the development of modern surgical techniques and new medical treatments, the death rate of colon cancer has not improved in decades. Less than half are cured. The key concept is: get screened early, don’t wait for warning symptoms. It has been well demonstrated that if colon cancer is caught in the earliest stages, the cure rate could be increased to 90 percent. Even better, it has been repeatedly shown that by detecting and removing colon polyps before they develop into cancer, colon cancer can be prevented. Most polyps can now be painlessly removed during a simple 30-minute outpatient endoscopy procedure called a colonoscopy. To decrease your risk of colon cancer, you need to have any colon polyps found and removed before they become cancerous. Early detection and destruction of any colon polyps must be your goal. The most effective risk reduction tool for colorectal cancer is undergoing routine colorectal screening tests, such as a colonoscopy.
This test can identify colorectal polyps. These are growths on the lining of the colon and rectum and they can become cancerous. When discovered during a colonoscopy, they can be removed, thus preventing colorectal cancer from occurring. Along with regular colorectal cancer screenings, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides overall health benefits and can help prevent colorectal cancer as well as other cancers. The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. Starting at age 50, men and women who are at average risk for the disease should get screened. Men and women who have a higher risk of colorectal cancer may need to be tested earlier and should talk to their health care professional about when. Some people are at a higher risk for developing colorectal cancer and may need to be tested earlier. It is also very important to know your family medical history, because colorectal cancer can be hereditary. Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, Delaware Health and Social Services along with the Delaware Cancer Consortium are encouraging all Delawareans age 50 and over who have not had a screening colonoscopy to be screened. If you need more information on colorectal screening, or risk factors you can call the colorectal care coordinator at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital at 629-6615, ext. 3765. You could qualify for free screening colonoscopy through the Screening for Life program. Screening today is the key to prevention of colorectal cancer tomorrow.

‘Healthier, wholesome eating, speakers’ topic
The Delmarva Community Wellnet Foundation is hosting the 13th annual Holistic Health Fair, Saturday, March 19, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., at the Cape Henlopen High School, at 1250 Kings Highway in Lewes. The yearly non-profit event is open to the public. Admission is free with a donated non-perishable food item, which will be donated to the local food basket. This year’s event is focused on natural health products and services plus alternative and integrative health practices. It will include exhibits, demonstrations, workshops, healthy foods, music and new to this year, a children’s area. This year’s keynote speaker is Sara Thyr, N.D. (naturopathic physician), co-author of the book, “”Refined to Real Food: Moving your family toward Healthier, Wholesome Eating.” Dr. Thyr will present the core truths of why the foods we choose are so important and how we can make simple shifts toward the ideal way to eat. Dr. Thyr, like many individuals, is a member of the “P” generation — when food began to be processed, prepared, and packaged.
Other speakers include:
  • Connie Zucker Reider, photographer and author of the book “In Shadow and Light: Looking for the Gifts of Cancer.” She will speak on Illness as personal growth.
  • Dr. George Batman, a pioneer in spiritual and metaphysical healing, will be speaking on energetic patterns in healing/illness.
  • Cheyenne Luzader, MS and coordinator, integrative health complementary and alternative medicine at Bebee Medical Center, will present on the history and research of Reiki (a Japanese practice using the flow of “universal life force energy”) as a therapeutic practice for pain and stress management.
  • Gertie Hillman, medical herbalist, certified nutritionist, licensed microscopist and director of “Gerties Nutrition: The Key to Life” located in Lewes, will be speaking on autism and detoxification. This year’s fair is expected to have over 70 exhibitors including practitioners, health oriented retailers and various health service providers from the Delmarva area. For additional information contact Deborah Dobias, 228-7164, or email