Stennis Family Foundation Clinicians Network:

Mary Buford is a 44 year old African American woman with two young children. Because she had been feeling weak for several months, she decided to visit her physician who found that she had a low blood count. She was sent for a number of tests, which included a colonoscopy. To her surprise, she was informed that she had colon cancer.

The month of March is designated as Colon Cancer Awareness Month and allows healthcare professionals and cancer screening advocates the opportunity to focus on this deadly disease.

Approximately 150,000 new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed annually and 50,000 people will die of this disease. In recent years with established programs of screening and early detection, there has been a downward trend in colon cancer mortality. Though breast and prostate cancer are more prevalent, when men and women are considered, colon cancer still remains second to lung cancer as the most deadly form of cancer.

Buford, along with the council of her physician decided that surgery was the best course of action. Colon cancer is one type of cancer that is preventable, easily detected and cured at is earliest stages. It is estimated that ninety-five percent of colon cancers arrive from small, precancerous growths on the lining of the colon called polyps. With routine screening and early detection, by removing these polyps, one can virtually eliminate the risk of developing later colon cancer. Mary Buford’s surgery was successful and she did not require any further treatment. She was cured of colon cancer.

Age appears to be the most significant risk factor for colon cancer. Precancerous growths or polyps increase in prevalence in both men and women beginning around the age of 50. The reasons for polyp development are unclear; however genetic predisposition and environmental factors are thought to play a significant role. Your personal risk of developing colon cancer may increase if you have a family member with colon cancer or polyps.

Although the month of March has been designated as Colon Cancer Awareness Month, the truth is, because of the increased risk and poor outcomes, African Americans should consider every day of every year as Colon Cancer Awareness Day. Lifestyle-related risk factors include: a diet high in fat and/or red meat, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and excessive alcohol consumption.

In the United States, African Americans have the highest incidence of colon cancer of any racial or ethnic group. Compared with Caucasians, African Americans may develop colon cancer at an earlier age, prompting some medical organizations to suggest earlier screenings.

New consensus guidelines on the screening and detection for colon cancer were released March 05, 2008. For the first time, these guidelines state that the primary goal of colon cancer screening is cancer prevention. Previous guidelines have given equal weight to tests for detecting cancer and preventing cancer.

The Mary Buford story had a happy ending. However, what is essential for her is to educate her brothers, sisters and other family members of the importance of being tested for colon cancer.

The new guidelines, which represent the most current scientific evidence and expert opinions available, are the joint efforts of the American Cancer Society, the American College of Radiology, and the United States Multi-Society Task Force.

It is not until the late stages that one will experience symptoms of colon cancer. Therefore early detection is critical.

Colonoscopy remains the gold standard procedure for screening, early detection and prevention of colon cancer. By removing polyps from the large bowel, the colonoscopy is the only screening test that also prevents colon cancer formation. Other screening tests included in the updated guidelines include sigmoidoscopy, barium enema, CT colonography, and assessments of stools for hidden blood or abnormal tumor genetic material.

The Stennis Family Foundation has taken on the mission of educating African Americans about the need to test for colon cancer detection for the purpose of colon cancer prevention. The mission grew from the premature death of Michael Stennis whose colon cancer was detected too late for him to survive.