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  • By Bruce Lloyd

Eek! There’s a giant colon in the atrium

And with dimensions of about 20 feet by 10 feet, this inflatable pink monster was unavoidable if not immediately threatening to visitors to Guam’s Micronesian Mall’s Center Court on a recent Sunday morning.

As with other vital bodily organs, when things are going well in colon-land, this 4 to 5 foot critter folded up in your gut goes about its business in relative peace and quiet, absorbing water and separating out vital nutrients while moving the leftover waste down the line for disposal.

Enter a load of bad food or contaminated water and the unhappy colon can make life miserable for its owner. There’s the stench—see flatulence—and there’s diarrhea, both known if not acceptable miseries to all humans. In human history, Cholera has killed millions with watery diarrhea depriving the body of fluids, though modern sanitation has largely undone this menace in the developed world.

Hanging out in your gut

But the menace remains. The stark fact is that colorectal [colon and rectum] cancer is the third leading cause of cancer on Guam.

Given what doctors now know about what causes this form of cancer, it is not surprising that Guam is fertile territory. Top items on the chart include poor diet and/or obesity and a family or personal history of smoking or alcohol abuse. Both men and women over 50 would be well-advised to undergo routine screening, which is what the social work students and various public health officials were busy lining up on this Sunday.

Normally, touring these innards is a tough ticket. Doctors, increasingly aware of the dimensions of this problem, increasingly scan younger as well as older patients by various means. The most familiar is a routine stool examination, an unrelished part of many doctor visits. Then, there is an external exam in the physician’s office. And finally, putting the ‘invasive’ in the invasive procedure is the colonoscopy, in which a flexible tube tipped with a light and camera for a truly first-hand look at the matter.

What’s being sought is polyps that develop inside the colon and other indicators of serious diseases of the colon such as Crohn’s Disease which increases cancer risk.

The problem is that polyps can take ten years or more to develop and become cancerous, though they can be harmlessly removed on earlier detection. The problem is that the relative inattention paid to this organ and perhaps the embarrassment related to its detection has prompted the social work community and the sponsoring UOG Cancer Research Center to view public reluctance to be screened as a problem and likely a life threatening one. Hence, the giant kidney, which will be the centerpiece of community campaigns to come.

When it’s deflated this colon will not kill anyone, but if viewers pay attention, it may save a lot of lives. I know my late mother would heartily endorse the early detection theme. Colon cancer took her out far too early and her son—veteran of two colonoscopies—has no intention of joining that unfortunate family medical history.


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