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Colorectal Health Screenings Can Make Life or Death Difference

By Larry Lucas, Deputy Vice President
Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

I’d like to think I’ve learned a lot about human behavior over the years. For example, I’ve learned that nine times out of 10, people will tell you darn near anything if you just listen – they’ll give you the play-by-play of their son’s soccer game, the intimate details of recent spats with their spouses, even the particulars of their health concerns. In my work to represent America’s pharmaceutical research companies, I’ve heard my fair share of the latter. Even so, there are certain important health topics that remain relatively under wraps. Colorectal health is one of them.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Even more disturbing, the ACS reports African Americans have the highest incidence and mortality. There is no single cause for colon cancer, and most cases have no symptoms – which is why proper screening is so important.

Understandably, talking about colorectal health isn’t at the top of the list for polite conversation. But the topic needs to be discussed because too few people – African Americans in particular – are getting the regular screenings they need to stay healthy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that colorectal cancer screening lags far behind screening for other cancers, such as breast and cervical cancers. In almost all cases, early diagnosis through regular screenings can lead to a complete cure, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

One way colon cancer can be caught in its earliest and most curable stages is by colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is an internal examination of the colon (large intestine), using an instrument called a colonoscope, a small camera attached to a flexible tube. Almost all men and women age 50 and older should have a colonoscopy, according to the NIH. I know it sounds uncomfortable, but in reality most patients are asleep for the entire procedure. If Katie Couric can undergo a colonoscopy on national television, as she famously did in 2000 on the “Today Show,” you can certainly do it in the privacy of your doctor’s office! Ignorance can be bliss, but this is not one of those cases.

Thanks to Medicare’s expanded coverage, more people than ever have access to colorectal screening tests to help find pre-cancerous polyps (growths in the colon) so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Be sure to ask your doctor how often you need these tests and what kinds of tests are best for you. Regular screening tests are essential because studies show that from the time the first abnormal cells start to grow, it takes about 10 to 15 years for them to develop into colorectal cancer. Screenings are vital to early detection and prevention.

It’s also critical to know your risk factors. While there is no know singular cause for colorectal cancer, risk factors can help your doctor determine what screening tests are appropriate for you. According to the ACS, you have a higher risk for colon cancer if you have colorectal polyps, cancer elsewhere in the body, a family history of colon cancer, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or a personal history of breast cancer.

There is promising news on the horizon in the fight against colorectal cancer. The work of celebrities like Katie Couric, Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman has helped bring greater awareness to the issue. And, as more cases are found early and treatments improve, the number of deaths due to colorectal cancer has declined. The ACS reports that the death rate for colon cancer has dropped in the last 15 years. Yet, there is more work to be done.

America’s pharmaceutical research companies are doing their part to help treat many forms of cancer, including colorectal. A new PhRMA report shows that there are 646 medicines in development today to treat patients with cancer. One such medicine is a monoclonal antibody that targets the epidermal growth factor receptor, which mediates growth signals upon which cancer cells can become dependent. By blocking the receptor, this medicine may eradicate existing cancer cells and stop future cancer cell growth.

It’s important that everyone who needs these innovative medicines be able to access them. That’s why America’s pharmaceutical companies sponsor a national clearinghouse of patient assistance programs called the Partnership for Prescription Assistance (PPA). Since April of last year, the PPA has helped connect nearly 3.5 million patients in need to programs that provide either free or nearly free medicines. For more information, patients can call 1-888-4PPA-NOW or visit www.pparx.org.

Colon cancer doesn’t have to be a death sentence if caught early enough. Shed some light on this important issue today by asking your doctor if you’re getting the colorectal health screening tests you need.





Supported by America's Pharmaceutical Research Companies

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