Battling colorectal cancer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 30, 2005

In 2004, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimated that 2,330 new cases of colorectal cancer would be diagnosed in Alabama. The ACS also estimated that 900 Alabamians would die from this type of cancer this year.

To help raise awareness of this potentially fatal- although treatable- disease, March was declared National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

“We’re asking all Americans to get screened by age 50 because most colon cancer is found after that age,” said Dr. Michael Durry, Vaughan Regional Medical Center’s Chief of Surgery.

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There are however, exceptions to this suggested screening age.

“If you have a family history of colon cancer, or have a family member who developed colon cancer at an early age, you need to be screened between the ages of 40 to 45,” said Durry.

The disease can be avoided if precancerous polyps (growths) of the colon are discovered and removed. If the cancer is not avoided, but detected during an early stage, it has a 90% survival rate.

Despite these positive indications, people generally don’t get the necessary screenings.

According to Durry, there are educational, cultural, financial, and social reasons for these low screening rates.

“Some of them are afraid that we will find something, afraid of doctors, or have been told horror stories about the actual screening mechanics,” said Durry. “A lot of it is cultural – people believing that their grandmother had a way to cure everything –

and by the time we find it, it is too late.”

“Most people educated about cancers and screenings are more diligent about getting screened,” said Durry. “Another thing that affects screening is people not having insurance.”

Although there are several different screening methods, Durry said that the colonoscopy, which allows doctors to view the entire large intestine, is the most thorough way to check for this type of cancer.

The ACS’s colorectal cancer screening guidelines state that people need to have a fecal occult screening (checks for blood in stool) yearly, a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years, and a colonoscopy every ten years.

As with the suggested screening age, issues such as family history of colorectal cancer, the presence of polyps, or changes in the stool would indicate the need to be tested more frequently.

For more information about colorectal cancer, consult with a doctor and/or visit The ACS’s website at