Colon cancer hits national spotlight

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Colon cancer gained national attention recently because of Katie Couric, co-anchor of NBC News' "Today" show and contributing anchor of "Dateline NBC."

On Tuesday, Couric had a colonoscopy, an examination of the colon with a fiber-optic, flexible probe during the "Today" show. The test was given and Couric hoped to bring to light a topic that many people are uncomfortable talking about, but one that needs discussion.

The colonoscopy performed on Couric is the same type of procedure The Memorial Hospital offers. TMH purchased a colonoscope in January and hospital officials believe the new machine provides more comfort for patients.

"The colonoscopy procedure is one that people don't like to talk about," said Heather Houseworth, The Memorial Hospital (TMH) in Craig community relations director. "We want to take away that stigma."

Over a lifetime, one in 17 men and one in 17 women will develop colon cancer.

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, 48,000 Americans die from colon cancer and 132,000 new cases will be diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society.

Through regular screenings, colon cancer is preventable. It is also possible to lower the risk of getting the disease by eating the proper amount of vegetables, limiting fat intake and regular exercise. Dr. Bernard Levin spoke on MSNBC TV "News Today" on Tuesday and said 65 to 85 percent of cancers can be prevented through diet and exercise.

According to Levin, cancer prevention is a lifelong process that begins in childhood. Parents can set a good example for their children and educate them about healthy lifestyles.

At the beginning of the year TMH purchased a video colonoscope which has made the procedure more comfortable.

"People are very vulnerable to colon cancer so it is important to catch it early enough," Houseworth said.

Colon cancer, like other cancers, is an uncontrolled growth beginning in the colon or large intestine. These growths are called polyps and most polyps will remain benign, or non-cancerous, but it cannot be determined which polyp is cancerous. When polyps are found during an examination, they are removed, according to the American Cancer Society. Removing these polyps can prevent colon cancer.

The society also recommends every man and woman age 50 or older should have regular screenings. There are basically three options for screening. They are an annual fecal occult blood test and flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years; a colonoscopy every 10 years; or a double-contrast barium enema (colon X-rays) with flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years.

Surgery is the only known cure for colon cancer.

An indication of a person's risk for colon cancer can be reached through a simply survey. These surveys are available with physicians and also on the Internet, on the American Cancer Society home page. Questions include age, amount of fruits and vegetables eaten per day, calorie intake, weight, exercise schedule, red meat intake, tobacco usage, alcohol use and family history.

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