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by Congressman Leonard Lance

Colon cancer. This is not a topic family and friends enthusiastically put at the top of their lists of things to discuss, and getting screened for colon cancer is not joyfully put at the top of most of our “to do” lists. The topic might not be comfortable and in fact can be embarrassing to talk about. But embarrassment is a poor excuse for putting off something that could save your life.

If you are 50 or older, or younger if you have a family history of colon cancer, or meet other criteria, don’t put off talking about your risk and get screened.

Ten years ago, Congress passed the first resolution marking March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. In the ten years that have passed, we have had promising news regarding this often preventable disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), incidences have dropped by 2.2 percent in women and 2.8 percent in men. Moreover mortality has dropped by 4.3 percent.

While these numbers may seem small, they amount to thousands of lives saved. Experts believe these advances can be attributed to the increase in screening and early detection. Colorectal cancer is different from most other cancers– screening for the disease can catch it before it turns into cancer. Most colorectal cancer develops from polyps that are grape-like growths on the lining of the colon or rectum. Screening can help detect and remove polyps before they become cancerous.

These colorectal cancer screening tests have the ability to help save even more lives, but only about half of adults over 50 are having one of the recommended screening tests. Colorectal cancer continues to be the second leading cancer killer among men and women combined.

In New Jersey, it is estimated that 4,600 persons were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2008 and 1,590 lost their battle to the disease. Men and women at average risk should be screened for colorectal cancer when they turn 50 and those with a family history should be screened earlier.

Screening is the best way to prevent and detect colorectal cancer, but research has shown that a healthy lifestyle can also be crucial in the prevention of this disease. Maintain a healthy weight and exercise most days of the week. If you don’t smoke, don’t start, and if you do smoke, stop.

If you are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, talk to your health care professional about your treatment options. When caught in its earliest, most treatable stages, colorectal cancer has a 90 percent survival rate.

I have long been an advocate for the importance of prevention, treatment and screening of colorectal cancer. In fact, in the New Jersey State Assembly I was the prime sponsor of a measure that was approved overwhelmingly and signed into law in 2001 that requires health insurers to provide colorectal cancer screening.

In the United States Congress I have cosponsored legislation to help increase awareness for colorectal cancer. Specifically, I have cosponsored the Colorectal Cancer Prevention, Early Detection and Treatment Act of 2009 (H.R. 1189) and H. CON.RES.60, which recognizes March as Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. These two measures have been endorsed by the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy.

National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is the perfect time for you to start a dialogue with your doctor about your risk, screening options and steps you can take to prevent this disease. It is also a great time to talk to your family, friends and loved ones about reducing their risk by getting screened.

For more information about colorectal cancer prevention and early detection please visit the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s Web site at www.preventcancer.org.
Congressman Leonard Lance represents New Jersey’s Seventh Congressional District in the United States Congress. The 7th District includes parts of Hunterdon, Somerset, Middlesex and Union counties.

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