Raising CRC awareness through humor & levity: 3 Qs with Dr. Charles Friel

Charles Friel, MD, colon and rectal surgery chief at the Charlottesville-based University of Virginia Medical Center dressed up as a red colon polyp named Paulie to educate staff and patients about colon cancer prevention in honor of colorectal cancer awareness month.

Dr. Friel spoke with Becker's ASC Review about the inspiration behind the costume, and the importance of CRC screenings.

Note: Responses have been edited for style and clarity.

Question: What was the inspiration behind Paulie the Polyp, and why did you volunteer to represent him?

Dr. Charles Friel: It started about 10 years ago when I first played the role in our Dogwood parade. Colon cancer and colon cancer screening is an awkward topic to discuss so by adding some levity and humor it allows people to engage in conversation and, I hope, ultimately get the important message out that there is something we can do to help prevent colon cancer. The costume is a bit extreme, but it does make people remember!

Q: What is your view on the American Cancer Society lowering the screening age to 45?

CF: There is no doubt that, while overall the incidence of colon cancer has been decreasing for many years, the incidence in young people has actually increased. We believe screening has helped in the older population, so now that we have identified young people at being at increased risk our hope is that, by decreasing the age, we can positively impact outcomes in our younger patients as well. It is critical to understand that screening implies no symptoms. Once you have symptoms, even if you are below 45, this needs to be evaluated thoroughly by your doctor since it could be a sign of colon cancer.

Q: Is there something you're proud of that you or your hospital achieved during colorectal cancer awareness month?

CF: We continue to push the message that screening is effective. We cannot underestimate the importance of education and getting the word out. If it takes a little bit of public humiliation on my part by donning the costume of Paulie the Polyp, then it is all worth it.

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