March 5, 2015 / 3:40 PM / 4 years ago

Wear blue on Friday to raise colon cancer awareness

(Reuters Health) - Advocates hope that people with colorectal cancer and their caregivers will dress in blue on Friday to raise awareness about the disease, which is the second-leading cancer-related cause of death in the U.S.

Each year on the first Friday in March, supporters hold “Dress in Blue Day” to encourage more Americans to be tested for the disease. In 2000, President Clinton designated March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Blue is the long-established color.

“You need to be screened, and Dress in Blue Day is about getting people to recognize that,” said Eric Hargis, CEO of Colon Cancer Alliance, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit patient advocacy organization.

Andrea Shepherd, executive director of the Colon Cancer Prevention Project, a Kentucky-based nonprofit working to eliminate preventable colon cancer death, hopes that all health care organizations participate in the day.

“Wear blue and talk about colon cancer. Talk about screening, talk about prevention of this disease, talk with your family and ask if they’ve been screened or if the disease runs in your family,” she told Reuters Health.

Shepherd, a former reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal, joined the organization after her father died from the disease at age 57.

While a small percentage of people have genes that increase their risk, most of the time colorectal cancer “just occurs,” without risk factors, said Dr. Mary F. Mulcahy of the Department of Hematology Oncology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

Colon cancer occurs equally in men and women, Mulcahy said, most commonly when people are in their early 60s. Experts recommend that people get screened at age 50.

The National Cancer Institute advises people at average risk of colorectal cancer to get screened at regular intervals with either high-sensitivity fecal occult blood tests (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. People should talk with their doctor to determine which test is best for them.

Because polyps and colorectal cancers can bleed, FOBTs check for tiny amounts of blood in feces that can’t be seen. FOBT costs about $5 per test before insurance, according to Colon Cancer Alliance, Inc. If the FOBT is positive, then a colonoscopy is necessary.

But it’s a mistake to think the disease is totally preventable, Mulcahy said. “Advocates say that and it makes it out like the people who get it, it’s their fault.” She added, “You don’t want to give that message.

“Not everybody has identifiable polyps,” she added, and a significant number of people get colon cancer before age 50.

“To a large part,” Mulcahy said, “the incidence has decreased, because people get screening colonoscopies that remove polyps, but there are some people who wouldn’t be in the (screening) age group.”

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