March 1, 2002 at 9:42 PM CST - Updated July 1 at 8:15 AM
Colon cancer can be a silent killer
because the symptoms may not show up for years, but it's very treatable if it's found early.
Now, one group is busy raising awareness about the disease.
The American Cancer Society, along with some Heartland hospitals and volunteers have formed a "Colon Cancer Coalition," because they're hoping raising awareness will save lives.
Colon cancer survivor Pat Allen says, "On my mother's side or my father's side, there's no history of cancer, any kind of cancer. So it's one of those things I thought would never happen to me, but it did."The words, you have colo-rectal cancer, are something Allen didn't think she would ever hear. As a restaurant owner she's constantly on the go, but last November, everything stopped when she was diagnosed with cancer and had surgery to remove part of her colon. Like many colon cancer patients, Allen didn't have any symptoms. She was diagnosed when she went into the doctor for something unrelated. Debbie Leoni is a nurse, and member of the Cape County Coalition Against Colon Cancer. She says, "The early symptoms are almost non existent. A lot of times when people show the symptoms it's already progressed to a point where it's hard to treat." "It probably would not have given me any symptoms for three to four years," Allen says. "I escaped without any radiation or chemo, so it was one of those things where preventative measures paid off." That's why the Cape County Coalition Against Colon Cancer put together free screening kits to raise awareness about the disease.
When doing the tests, people will need to take three separate stool samples. The samples are then sent off to a doctor, and within a week, the results will be back to let the person know if they're at high risk of having colon cancer. Leoni says, "We're looking for blood in the stool, and if that's the case, we want to follow up with a more involved test." If a test comes back positive, a colonoscopy will follow. Like Allen, no one wants to hear they have cancer, but the earlier you hear those words the better off you are. "It's highly treatable, highly preventable, and we want to catch it early so we can have more survival," Leoni says.
You can pick up a free, colo-rectal cancer home screening test at Southeast Hospital, Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape, and Main Street Fitness in Jackson.
Everyone over the age of 50 should get screened for colon cancer, and of course, people who have a history of the disease should get tested regularly.