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DHS news release

April 22, 2008

General contact: Pat O'Neill, 971-673-2298
Technical contact: Katrina Hedberg, M.D., 971-673-1050
Program contact: Patricia Schoonmaker, 971-673-1081

Got Polyps? Initiative launches to boost colorectal cancer screening in Oregon

Got Polyps? That's the question the Oregon Partnership for Cancer Control (OPCC) is asking Oregonians age 50 and older as it launches a statewide effort to increase colorectal cancer screening. This Oregon campaign uses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's national Screen for Life educational materials that aim to prevent this deadly disease.

"Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in Oregon, but it doesn't have to be," said Katrina Hedberg, M.D., M.P.H., an epidemiologist with the Oregon Department of Human Services Public Health Division. "Fortunately, we can prevent many cases of colorectal cancer through screening for and treating precancerous polyps. Yet fewer than half of Oregonians age 50 and older get screened as recommended."

Hedberg said a screening test is useful only if it gets done. Screening can find and remove pre-cancerous polyps that commonly form in the colon or rectum. Screening also helps detect colorectal cancer at an early stage when it is most treatable. The exact causes of colorectal cancer are unknown, but the disease is more likely to occur as people age.

Both men and women age 50 and older should talk with their doctor about getting screened. Individuals younger than 50 who have a family history of colorectal cancer may be at increased risk and should talk to their doctor about screening before age 50. High-fat diets, lack of physical activity, drinking alcohol to excess and smoking are thought to play a role in the development of the disease.

Health experts caution individuals age 50 and above not to wait for symptoms to occur to get screened. Polyps and colorectal cancer do not always cause symptoms, especially at first. Additionally, symptoms can be mistaken for other health conditions. Symptoms can include blood in the stool, frequent gas, a change of bowel habits, pains or indigestion, unexpected weight loss and chronic fatigue.

There are several screening tests for colorectal cancer. These include a blood stool test, sigmoidoscopy, barium enema and colonoscopy. The stool test can detect blood in the stool. A sigmoidoscopy uses a lighted tube to find polyps which can be removed at a later time. The barium enema allows for an X-ray of the colon and rectum. A colonoscopy can find and remove most polyps and some cancers. Most health insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare, help pay for screening.

"When it comes to colorectal cancer, we want to prevent it, treat it and beat it," said Sue Frymark, R.N., co-chair of the coalition that is coordinating the Oregon's Got Polyps Screen for Life initiative. "Through this campaign we will connect with health care providers, cancer survivors and communities from around the state. Screening does save lives."

The Oregon Partnership for Cancer Control (OPCC) is a coalition of more than 100 organizations with a commitment to reducing the burden of cancer in the state. The coalition launched Oregon's first statewide cancer plan in 2005. The coalition has made increasing screening for colorectal cancer its top priority.

More information about this campaign and the coalition is available at the OPCC Web site.