American College of Gastroenterology President Harry E. Sarles Jr., MD, FACG, answers questions about colorectal cancer awareness and what the ACG is doing to improve awareness and screening rates during this National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.
Question: How has colorectal cancer prevention improved since the inception of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month?
Dr. Harry Sarles: Screening for colorectal cancer is an American public health success story. Thanks to colonoscopy screening — which can prevent colorectal cancer by removing precancerous polyps — fewer people than ever before are developing or dying from colorectal cancer. Incidence and mortality are down — which has largely been attributed to increases in the use of colorectal cancer screening tests that allow for the detection and removal of colorectal polyps before they progress to cancer. But much remains to be done. According to a Vital Signs report from the CDC last fall, about one in three adults between 50 and 75 years old — about 23 million people — are not getting tested as recommended.
Q: What is the American College of Gastroenterology focusing on this year for colorectal cancer awareness?
HS: On February 26, 2014, the gastroenterology societies (ACG, AGA and ASGE) joined together to highlight the potential of colonoscopy to save lives as part of National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month with a briefing on Capitol Hill. The briefing — Progress and Challenges in Reducing Colorectal Cancer — utilized scientific data to showcase the potential life-saving value of colonoscopy and the unique skills and qualifications of gastroenterologists.
This event kicked off the initiative The Value of Colonoscopy: Saving Lives Through Expert Care — a unique partnership of ACG, AGA and ASGE that educates both policymakers and patients on the value of colonoscopy and the gastroenterologists that perform this life-saving procedure.
Additionally, the College offers resources to promote public awareness of colorectal cancer screening in March 2014. We developed two new, powerful infographics. The first, "Why take chances?" illustrates the risks of colorectal cancer and the impact of getting screened. It has a gaming/gambling theme that suggests the high stakes of not getting screened for colorectal cancer.
The second infographic, "How the Other Half Lives," features a statistic about mortality reduction from colorectal cancer screening. This concept was built on an important statistic from the American Cancer Society's Cancer Facts & Figures 2013: "Of the 50,830 people expected to die of colon cancer in 2013, screening (or use of early detection tests) could have saved more than half of them."
ACG's colorectal cancer prevention message, "Take the Quiz. Get the Test," focuses on the importance of prevention in the fight against colorectal cancer and asks the question, "What common cancer can you prevent through screening?" and includes a general call-to-action on colorectal screening and prevention.
Q: What can individual gastroenterologists do to embrace National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month?
HS: Colorectal Cancer Awareness month is a great reminder for gastroenterologists to make sure their communities have the tools and resources needed to be informed about colorectal cancer screening options. ACG offers many resources for patients and the public at the ACG website, including videos on what to expect during a colonoscopy, what a healthy colon looks like, and removal of a pre-cancerous polyp.
Q: What goals does the ACG have in mind for the future of colorectal cancer prevention?
HS: This year, dozens of groups, including the American College of Gastroenterology and the American Cancer Society, have pledged to work together to increase the nation's colorectal cancer screening rates and embrace the goal of reaching 80 percent of eligible adults screened for colorectal cancer by 2018.
The College agrees that our nation must get more people screened for colorectal cancer, prevent more cancers and save lives. Achieving an 80 percent screening rate by 2018 will require the collaboration of many leaders; it cannot be achieved working in isolation. ACG is proud to be part of this important national effort to eliminate colorectal cancer as a major public health problem.
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