Medical professionals have the numbers to prove that screening for colon cancer and improved treatments have made a large dent in death from this increasingly treatable disease. Since March is "Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month" and Guam's new Maga-haga, Lou Leon Guerrero is a medical professional herself, a proclamation signing to that effect seemed like an opportune time to attack the basic public ignorance that keeps those mortality numbers from getting better.
First, many doctors who see the cases despair that patients are already in the final, inoperable stage of the disease. Had they been screened and treated earlier, they would have likely survived. There are a number of reasons patients don't get screened, one of them being the idea that colon cancer is an 'old person's' disease of those over 50. Doctors are in fact seeing patients as young as 17 and many below 50.
But as those who pay attention to current advertising on TV are likely aware, many view the screening elements as unpleasant and inconvenient. Acting Director of the Guam Department of Public Health & Social Services Linda Unpingco DeNorcey.
"Many of the patients, one of the results we are experiencing is that they don't like to do the fecal occult blood test. And as you know, they have to have the card, they have to take the urine, their poop samples are their feces samples and put it all, smear it all and so that's not very appealing to some of our patients. Additionally, though Medicaid covers colorectal cancer screening and for example, colonoscopy, a lot of them just don't want, they fear going through the colonoscopy procedure and many times they don't want the prep work that's involved, when you have to drink to clean out your system."
And the dirty little secret is that many medical professionals, including doctors, are just about as reluctant as their patients to endure the inconvenience of the screenings. Renata Bordallo of the Guam Cancer Registry wasn't the only one at the proclamation signing to offer this confession.
"I just want to say one thing. It's very, very true that there is a correlation between higher education, higher income and higher screening rates. However, I have a medium high education, I'm not low or high income, but middle income. I work at the Guam Cancer Registry and know a lot about cancer. But I delayed getting my colorectal cancer screening test and I had some risk factors. I finally got it and it wasn't so bad. It really wasn't so bad. So I really encourage anyone who is like me, who is delaying it, to just go and get it done."
[Editor: Colon cancer took out the author's mother far too early. He has since had two colonoscopies--mercifully negative--and the attendant inconvenient but life saving procedures and hopes all who read this will do the same.]