March 19, 2014
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and when it arrives, it’s usually in plain sight.
Pink — the color that is associated with this feared disease — can be seen everywhere, on ribbons attached to people’s clothing, on sneakers worn by collegiate basketball players and on the fronts of some newspapers. The pink is the string on the finger to remind women who are at risk for the disease to take precautionary measures to ensure early detection, including self-exams and mammographies as recommended by the American Cancer Society.
The public-relations campaign has certainly been a success, but here’s something you might not know about breast cancer. In the United States, it is the No. 3 cancer killer, behind lung and colon.
Lung at No. 1 is no surprise, accounting for about 220,000 deaths each year in the United States. But you might be surprised to learn that colon cancer is deadlier than breast cancer, killing about 50,000 Americans a year compared with about 40,000 for breast cancer.
But colon cancer has lacked the PR machinery.
Colon cancer is an effective killer because it is difficult to diagnose; too often when the disease is discovered it has progressed too far and treatment is ineffective. That explains why more than a third of Americans afflicted with colon cancer succumb to the illness., while breast cancer is a much less effective killer, claiming the lives of about one in five Americans diagnosed with the disease.
If you know that March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month it’s likely because you read staff writer Sarah Willets’ story on the disease on the front of The Robesonian on Sunday. The story was prompted by a local physician who wants to remind people who are at risk to be screened for the disease. It profiled a local woman who is surviving colon cancer, and wears the color associated with the disease, dark blue, as her string on the finger.
One thing breast cancer and colon cancer share is that both are treatable if detected in time. Unfortunately, because of the unpleasantness of a colon-cancer screen — primarily the colonoscopy, which isn’t nearly as bad now as it once was — too many people who are at risk don’t have the screening procedure, and regret it later.
The American Cancer Society recommends that men and women at the age of 50 should work with their regular physician and be appropriately screened for the disease, which can be done in a variety of ways, including stool samples, CT scans and colonoscopies.
Silence has been colon cancer’s accomplice. Let this Our View be the string on the finger for those of you are risk. While the screening isn’t pleasant, suffering from the disease, especially when it is diagnosed late, is much worse.