Health & Medicine

More to be done to raise colon cancer awareness

Increased screening for colorectal cancer in Kentucky has resulted in a significant decline in both the incidence of the disease and deaths.

That's the result of a recent analysis of data from the Kentucky Cancer Registry (

Colorectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in both men and women. In Kentucky, about 2,700 cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed each year. Colorectal cancer is also the second-leading cause of death from cancer in Kentucky, accounting for nearly 850 deaths each year.

For people 50 or older, screening through a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy can prevent the disease from occurring. Screening allows for the finding of pre-cancerous polyps and the chance of removing them before they become cancer.

Screening can also reduce deaths from colorectal cancer by finding the disease at an early stage when treatments are most effective.

In the later part of 2001, only 34.7 percent of people 50 or older in Kentucky had a screening sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy. This rate was very low compared to other states.

A coalition of public and private organizations in Kentucky was brought together through the Kentucky Cancer Consortium, a statewide initiative funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These organizations worked to promote screening and to get legislation passed to increase the availability of colorectal cancer screening.

As a result, the proportion of people 50 or older having either a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy has nearly doubled, to 63.7 percent by 2008. Even more encouraging, the incidence of colorectal cancer in Kentucky has decreased more than 16 percent, from 68.5 cases per 100,000 people in 2001 to 57.1 cases per 100,000 people in 2006.

Deaths from colorectal cancer in Kentucky have also declined about 16 percent, from 22.4 deaths per 100,000 people in 2001 to 18.9 deaths per 100,000 people in 2006.

From a public health perspective, these changes represent important improvements. However, even though significant progress has been made, much remains to be done.

More than one-third of the Kentucky population 50 or older have never had a screening sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy exam. We must continue to work together to ensure that all Kentuckians 50 or older are screened for this preventable disease.

To increase awareness of the importance of screening, the Kentucky Cancer Program has coordinated a photographic exhibit featuring colorectal cancer survivors from Kentucky. Faces of Colon Cancer will be unveiled at a special reception at 1 p.m. Thursday in the atrium of the Markey Cancer Center's Combs Research Building.

The public is invited to attend. The exhibit will remain on display for two weeks before traveling to other locations throughout Central and Eastern Kentucky.