Health
Thursday, March 02, 2006
 
Regular screenings can defeat deadly colon cancer

By Melinda A. Huffman
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital,
Colorectal Cancer Care Coordinator

As the Winter Olympics once again fade into history, we have been moved by the human interest stories of athletes who have given their all in the hopes of winning gold, silver or bronze medals. Finishing in first, second or even third place is a great achievement unless we are ranking the most common cancers. In this case, we begin to wonder why a disease that is completely preventable still holds silver medal status as the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a collaborative effort to increase awareness of a disease that is largely preventable, treatable and beatable through regular screenings, a healthy lifestyle and expert clinical care. Colon cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. The disease surpasses both breast and prostate cancer in number of cancer deaths, second only to lung cancer. Although colon cancer is highly preventable, approximately 146,940 new cases were diagnosed in 2004, and 56,730 people died from the disease. Why does a preventable disease continue to affect so many people? The truth is that many otherwise health-conscious adults are simply too embarrassed or afraid to talk about the disease. This silence has allowed colon cancer to become 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. Who is at risk for colon cancer? We all are. One in 20 adult Americans will develop the cancer in their lifetime. Despite a popular misconception, colon cancer is an equal opportunity disease – both men and women are affected. The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. More than 90 percent of cases are diagnosed in individuals over the age of 50. The most common symptom of colon cancer is no symptom at all. As you read this, you could have a polyp, or even an early stage of the cancer growing inside you, but you may feel perfectly fine. Symptoms such as pain, bleeding or change in bowel habits don't arrive until the late stages, when the cancer is large enough to change your bowel habits. Left undetected, colon cancer eventually penetrates through the outer colon wall and spreads to other organs, most often to the lymph nodes and the liver. The lack of early warning signals is why, despite the development of modern surgical techniques and new medical treatments, the death rate of colon cancer has not improved in decades. Starting at age 50, men and women need to be screened. If you have a family history of the disease, you should talk to your family doctor about screening at age 40 or earlier. Colon cancer is 90 percent curable if caught in the early stages. Studies show that detecting and removing colon polyps before they develop into cancer can prevent the disease entirely. Most polyps can now be painlessly removed during a simple 30-minute outpatient endoscopy procedure called a colonoscopy. Along with colon cancer screenings, regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce your risk of colon cancer. Also, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides overall health benefits and can help prevent colorectal cancer as well as other cancers. The month of March is meant to bring this "silent killer" to the attention of millions of Americans. Once the facts about colon cancer are brought to light and everyone is aware of its potential dangers, once the fear of embarrassment is gone, this deadly killer will be kicked off the podium and will lose its "silver medal status." Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, Delaware Health and Social Services, and the Delaware Cancer Consortium are encouraging all Delawareans age 50 and over who have not had a screening colonoscopy to be screened. For details, 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.

New Cancer Helpline is available to help patients meet demands of every-day life, focus on getting well
Cancer patients in Delaware can now rely on a new resource to help them meet the basic needs of living. The Cancer Helpline – a free service of the Delaware Helpline – puts patients in touch with trained referral specialists familiar with local, regional and national cancer and human services that can provide assistance. Developed in collaboration with Cancer Care Connection and Delaware Health and Social Services Division of Public Health, the Cancer Helpline works with people over the phone to direct them to a wide array of services including financial assistance, transportation, support groups, legal services, nutritional counseling and mental health counseling. Funded by the Delaware Cancer Consortium, the new service focuses on the non-medical side of fighting cancer. Patricia M. Blevins, executive director of Delaware Helpline Inc., explained that the Cancer Helpline is one of the state's newest tools in its aggressive four-year plan to reduce the burden of cancer for Delawareans. "Our goal is to help cancer patients with the demands of daily life so they can focus all of their attention and energy on battling the disease," she said. The process is simple. Callers use the toll-free number, 1-800-464-HELP (4357), to discuss their needs with a referral specialist. Together the caller and specialist determine the best course of action. Based on the conversation, the specialist links the caller with resources – community programs, agencies, organizations – that can help solve the patient's problem and fill the need. The service is available Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Cancer Helpline and the Delaware Helpline are partnerships of Delaware Health and Social Services (Division of State Service Centers), the Office of Management and Budget (Division of Government Support Services) and Delaware Helpline, Inc., a private nonprofit agency. The toll-free service provides information on state government agencies and referrals to community resources. Started in 1990 as a statewide comprehensive information and referral service for health and human services, the Delaware Helpline broadened its scope considerably in 1997. The offices, legislators and employees, and continues to provide needs assessment, problem resolution and referrals for callers with health or human service needs.

Volunteers needed for Holistic Health Fair
The Delmarva Community Wellnet Foundation is in need of volunteers for the 14th annual Holistic Health Fair on Saturday, March 11, from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at the Cape Henlopen High School at 1250 Kings Highway in Lewes. Volunteers are needed the evening of the day before as well as the day of the event. Adults and mature children are needed for many diverse activities. A supervising adult must attend with children. All volunteers will be trained and will have a Delmarva Community Wellnet Holistic Health Fair committee member in charge of their assigned task. Interested volunteers can contact Andy Meddick, Health Fair volunteer coordinator, at andywales@comcast.net, or 302-381-6182.

Sussex Tech to host work and wellness fair
The third annual Wellness, Education and Employment Fair (WEE Fair) will be at Sussex Technical High School in Georgetown on Thursday, March 30, from 5:45 to 8 p.m. The past two years more than 35 vendors have met with students. The purpose of the WEE Fair is to bring employers, health-care providers and higher education representatives to Sussex Tech to meet with the adult students. These students are enrolled in programs such as the James Groves Adult High School, trades apprenticeships, nursing and other medical professions, and office/clerical. Vendors have a potential to speak with more than 400 students. Students and families from Sussex Tech High School and the general public are invited to attend as well. Interested representatives from health-care, education, retail, industrial, or other employment and service areas may contact the Sussex Tech Adult Division at 856-9035 for more information about being a vendor.

Cancer survivor support group to start March 6
The Wellness Community- Delaware will offer a new support group on the first Monday of each month from 5:30 until 7 p.m., for long-term cancer survivors. This new program, facilitated by Clare Wilson, RN, will begin on March 6. The focus of this group will be to meet the needs of those people who are no longer in active treatment but are still emotionally affected by their experience with cancer. The Sussex facility is located at 19633 Blue Bird Lane, Suite 5, in Rehoboth, directly behind the Crab Barn. Call 227-1155 for more information or to register for this group. The Wellness Community-Delaware is part of a national nonprofit organization that provides support, education and hope to people with cancer and their loved ones. Through participation in professionally led support groups, educational workshops and mind/body classes, people affected by cancer learn vital skills that enable them to regain control, reduce isolation and restore hope regardless of the stage of disease. All programs are free of charge.