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March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month: Free Screenings Available in High Country

By Sherrie Norris

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States and the third most common form of cancer diagnosed in the High Country.

It often times appears without any symptoms and will affect one in 21 men and one in 23 women within their lifetime. 

Those are startling statistics, but according to Shannon Meade, Community Outreach Program Coordinator with High Country Community Health, regular screenings are key to prevention. “If your doctor doesn’t mention it to you during your routine health care visit, especially if you are between 50-75, make sure you speak up and request to be screened.”

Meade said she has not seen any evidence of colon cancer in teenagers, “But I have seen it in individuals as young as 24.”

However, Meade stressed, age is not the only thing to consider, as there are a number of other risk factors, including family history, as well as diet and lifestyle.

Important factors to keep in mind regarding colon cancer:

  • Both men and women are equally at risk for colon cancer. The cancer is most common among people aged 50 and older, but can occur in patients as young as teenagers. Over 75 percent of colon and rectal cancers happen to people with no known risk factors, which is why regular screening is so important. A personal or family history of colon cancer or colon polyps can increase the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Hereditary risks: People with a parent, sibling, or child with colorectal cancer are two or three times more likely to develop the disease compared to those with no family history. When the relative was diagnosed at a young age or if there is more than one affected relative, the risk increases to three to six times that of the general population. About 20 percent of all colorectal cancer patients have a close relative who was diagnosed with the disease.
  • Personal medical history: A personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease and cancers such as ovarian, breast, and endometrial may put you at higher risk for developing colon cancer.
  • People of African American and Hispanic descent are often diagnosed at a later stage of the disease.

Other Risk Factors include:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Diet: Several studies suggest that high consumption of red and/or processed meat increases the risk of both colon and rectal cancer; other studies propose that people with very low fruit and vegetable intake are at higher risk. Consumption of milk and calcium probably decreases the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer released a study in 2009 that concluded tobacco smoking increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Individuals who have a lifetime average of two to four alcoholic drinks per day have a 23 percent higher risk of colorectal cancer than those who consume less than one drink per day.

What Can We Do to Reduce our Risk?

Get Screened! This is the very best way to help prevent colorectal cancer.

The American Cancer Society, in its current recommendations for the prevention of colorectal cancer, recommends taking the following actions to prevent colon cancer:

  1. Get screened regularly.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight.
  3. Adopt a physically active lifestyle.
  4. Consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant sources; specifically:

Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.

Choose whole grains in preference to processed (refined) grains. Limit your consumption of processed and red meats.

  1. If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption.

Meade encourages adults to be diligent regarding these risks factors to reduce the risks of colon cancer.

It is Meade’s goal to heighten awareness about colon cancer during March, which is Colon Cancer Awareness Month across the country — and the perfect time to schedule those dreaded colonoscopies. Keep in mind that a little discomfort is worth peace of mind.

According to Meade, colorectal cancer, or colon cancer, as it is commonly known, begins when abnormal cells (precancerous polyps) grow in either the colon or rectum and invades normal cells in the body.

The Center for Disease Control strongly recommends that any person ages 50 and above be screened for colon cancer through either a colonoscopy every 10 years or a take-home screening test once a year.

It is estimated that one in three adults are not up to date with their recommended screenings.

The good news is that with the support of the Colon Cancer Coalition, High Country Community Health is able to offer patients take-home screening kits, as well as provide support if further testing and treatment are necessary. “We are seeing an increased interest in individuals seeking treatment, and while March is an important month for us,

our goal at HCCH is to increase colon cancer awareness and screenings all year long.”

Through the end of March, HCCH has also been partnering with the American Cancer Society to screen eligible patients for colon cancer when they receive their flu vaccination through the agency’s FluFIT screening program.

HCCH is also offering free colon cancer information session to the community to improve awareness and increase screenings in Watauga, Avery and Burke County.

To schedule a colon cancer information session for your organization or group, contact Shannon Meade at (828) 262-3886.

Remember, colon cancer is treatable, preventable and beatable with routine screenings. 

HCCH is a federally qualified health center that provides integrated medical, dental and behavioral health services to residents of Watauga, Avery and Burke counties. HCCH is committed to making medical care affordable and available to medically underserved areas.

For more information, contact Shannon Meade at the High Country Community Health

Community Outreach office by calling (828) 262-3886 ext. 119 or emailing