DENVER (KDVR) — An event this weekend is hoping to raise awareness about the third most common type of cancer in the U.S.
One in five new cases of colon cancer is found in people who are in their early 50s or younger. Gastroenterologists are now sounding the alarm that this cancer is preventable if screenings are done early.
The problem is the gold standard screening is a colonoscopy, something that’s not always on the top of people’s to-do list.
According to Dr. Lawrence “Larry” Kim, over the last several decades doctors have been able to reduce colon cancer deaths by 55%.
A colonoscopy takes about 20 minutes. The patient is under anesthesia and doctors pass a 3 to 4-foot-long tube through the patient’s colon with a camera on the end to look for polyps that can lead to cancer and other possible issues.
“It’s sometimes an embarrassing or a difficult thing for people to talk about. But I think the bottom line is, it is very important,” said Kim, who works at South Denver GI. “I think we just need to get over some of those barriers, which is one of the reasons why we’re out there talking about it. The bottom line is we want to prevent those sad stories that we are seeing more and more every day.”
Kim said the prep is often the biggest barrier. Patients must undergo a clear liquid diet for about 24 hours before the procedure and take two doses of medicine.
Doctors said adults should be screened beginning at age 45. This has been lowered from the previous recommended age of 50 mainly due to exploding rates of colon cancer in younger people.
Nearly double the number of adults under 55 are being diagnosed with colon cancer today than a decade ago.
“A more worrisome recent trend that doctors have been seeing in recent years,” Kim said. “We’re seeing younger and younger patients being diagnosed with colon cancer, and ultimately dying from the disease.”
Marleigh Cummins’ dad was diagnosed with colon cancer when she was eight. His journey was nine months from diagnosis to death.
“He was [diagnosed at] 49. So at the time, he was not eligible for the screening, and so he had to opt into it,” said Cummins. “The most frustrating part is if the age at which you were supposed to get screened had been reduced sooner, he might still be here today.”
Now she’s done a lot to raise awareness and money about getting screened after losing her dad. For her, it started in fifth grade.
“It’s been a really long process from the time that I was able to understand what had really happened with my dad. I knew that I wanted to be involved in preventing that from happening to other people. So when I was in my fifth grade year, we had to do a project at school about something that we were passionate about. So for me, I chose to make art and make and sell those things in order to raise money for the Colon Cancer Alliance.”
She continued that for a few years and was able to raise $500. Now she’s doing it on a larger scale.
Cummins and her mom are co-chairing the Blue Hope Bash this weekend at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The tickets have been sold out, but you can still donate or participate in the silent auction from your phone.
The whole goal is to get people out for a fun event to talk about crucial screening.
“It’s just so taboo that people don’t get it done,” said Cummins. “I can only imagine how many people are affected because they just don’t know they should be getting screened, or they don’t want to because it’s uncomfortable when really that could save their life.”