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National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Remember those PSA announcements after Saturday morning cartoons “The more you know” with the star and the rainbow? The gold at the end of our rainbow this March is helping you know more about how you can prevent cancer in yourself and your family. March is also National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so we spoke to our resident expert on colorectal cancer, CPIC Research Scientist Bang Nguyen, Dr.P.H.

Dr. Nguyen reminded us that there are several ways to screen for colon cancer: colonscopy is the most thorough, but sigmoidoscopy and fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) also can be used. These tests can find both pre-cancers and cancers early, when they are small, and so are useful for cancer prevention and early detection. But not all people know about these tests or take advantage of them. So Dr. Nguyen has conducted a number of studies that examine various ways to increase awareness of and screening for colorectal cancer in order to find which are most effective. His most recent research demonstrated that public education campaigns worked well in increasing screening rates among Vietnamese Americans.

With much of his work aimed at the Vietnamese American community in California, Dr. Nguyen has emphasized colorectal cancer screening studies for a simple reason: he hopes that increasing the use of screening can help the Vietnamese America population keep its lower-than–average rate of colorectal cancer from rising, and even lower it further. For Dr. Nguyen, this translates to an opportunity to save lives.

“Of course there are the things we should all do to lower our risk of all kinds of cancer,” Dr. Nguyen said, “like keep our weight down, eat a healthy diet, exercise, don’t smoke and take aspirin if a doctor approves. But when it comes to colorectal cancer we can all do so much more. There are very few tests about which we can say, ‘this will prevent cancer as well as just catching it early,’ but colorectal cancer screening is one of them.”

While colorectal cancer remains the third leading cause of cancer related deaths among both men and women (accounting for nearly 10% of all cancer deaths), it is among the most curable types of cancer, and that’s why screenings are so important. “With regular screening and the early detection it provides, colorectal cancer is 90% preventable and curable,” Dr. Nguyen said.

The latest guidelines from CDC (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommend that regular screening for colorectal cancer begin at age 50 and continue until age 75. If you are at higher risk for colorectal cancer (for example, if members of your family have had colorectal cancer), your screenings should begin earlier.

Among the various testing methods, there is some debate both among physicians and the general population over which test to recommend or use, but according to Dr. Nguyen, “The most important action is to get informed and take a test,” he said. “It can save your life.”