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.