DEAR ABBY: Imagine if, by applying what we already know, we could save the majority of lives that are lost to the third-leading cause of cancer in men and women. That's no pie-in-the-sky dream. I'm talking about colon cancer. Regular testing can help prevent this disease or detect it at its earliest, most treatable stage.
This year, colon cancer will claim the lives of more than 56,000 Americans. That's more than 150 deaths a day, many of them preventable. The tests allow doctors to remove polyps before they can become cancerous, and prevent colon cancer from happening. These same tests can also detect early signs of the disease as effectively as mammography detects breast cancer. So why aren't Americans over the age of 50 getting tested?
Many people simply do not realize they're at risk beginning at age 50. Some people think they don't need to be tested because they have no family history of the disease or symptoms. The truth is, symptoms often don't appear until colon cancer has progressed, and no matter what a person's family history or how someone feels, if you're 50 or older you're at risk for colon cancer.
There is also the perception that the test will be embarrassing or painful. While some of the tests may be uncomfortable, colon cancer is far worse.
Bottom line: If you're 50 or older, now is the time to get tested for colon cancer. People with a family history of the disease or other risk factors should discuss with their doctors getting tested even earlier.
Abby, March marks the sixth annual National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It's a perfect time to start raising this important subject and making sure that Americans get the test that could save their lives. Do it NOW. Don't put it off. It's one of the few cancer tests that can actually prevent the disease. -- STEPHEN F. SENER, M.D., PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY
DEAR DR. SENER: I am pleased to help publicize this important message. Readers, if there is a history of colon cancer in your family, please discuss it with your doctors, regardless of your age. If you're lucky and there isn't one, but you're 50 or nearly there, recognize that adulthood brings with it certain responsibilities. So don't be childish, don't be embarrassed and don't be afraid. The exam isn't painful. The biggest "inconvenience" is the preparation for it. Consider it an initiation into a special club -- the long-life club.
The American Cancer Society offers a free information kit to help you discuss colon cancer testing with your physician. To get one, call toll-free: (800) 227-2345 and stop colon cancer before it starts.