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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Three-month screening campaign targets Colorectal Cancer

Three-month screening campaign targets Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a deadly disease with an ironic twist.

A twist that spawns hope.

Colorectal cancer is one of the deadliest forms of cancer in the United States, yet it also is the most preventable.

People who are regularly screened for the disease via colonoscopies can have the disease caught in its very early stages when polyps are pre-cancerous or when the cancer can easily be removed. 

This is serving as the basis of a three-month Union County colorectal cancer screening campaign Grande Ronde Hospital and the Center for Human Development are launching.

The centerpiece of the campaign will be ads urging people to get screened for colorectal cancer and encouraging their friends and family to also be checked.

The ads will be run on radio stations, in The Observer and at Granada Theater and one will be displayed on a billboard donated by Grande Ronde Hospital, said Natalie Linton, the Healthy Communities coordinator for Center for Human Development.

The ads will feature eight Union County residents urging people to get screened. Some will draw on personal stories, telling of loved ones who lost their lives to colorectal cancer. Others will speak as health professionals about the importance of being screened. 

The cast of faces include Union County Commissioner Steve McClure of La Grande, who will be featured on the billboard. Colorectal cancer touched McClure’s life earlier when he lost an uncle to the disease. This has inspired McClure to be screened via colonoscopy.

“It is so important,’’ McClure said.

Former Union County Sheriff Steve Oliver of Summerville is another “face of the campaign,’’ one whose life has been touched by colorectal cancer. 

Oliver’s grandfather died of colon cancer shortly before he was born and his father developed it when he was in his 40s. Oliver’s father was lucky, he recovered after surgery. Unfortunately, he had to wear a colostomy bag the final four decades of his life because of the surgery.

Oliver, who served as sheriff for 12 years through 2004, has had regular colonoscopies as a precaution because colorectal cancer runs in his family. He said that every time he undergoes the procedure, doctors find and remove precancerous polyps in his colon.

Joining Oliver and McClure as the faces of the Union County campaign are Greg Monahan, Kathy Thimmes and Jan Harris of La Grande and three health professionals — Tempie Bartell, a family nurse practitioner who practices in Elgin; Keith Graham, a physician who practices in La Grande; and Kim Montee, a physician who practices in Union.

The need for colorectal cancer awareness is particularly great in Union County. Statistics provided by Oregon State Cancer Registry indicate the death rate from colorectal cancer in Union County is above the state average. 

The statistics, the latest available, indicate that from 1997 to 2006, the death rate from colorectal cancer in Union County was six per year.

This means that if Union County, which has a population of 25,000, had 100,000 people, its death rate per 100,000 people would be 24 a year. The state average per 100,000 people is 18 per year. The colorectal cancer death rate for this same period in Wallowa County was 12 per 100,000. 

It is not known why the death rate is higher in Union County than the state average. It may be, however, that not enough people are being screened. 

Statistics provided by Grande Ronde Hospital indicate that the number of people receiving colonoscopies has been declining.

Following are the number of people who received colonoscopies at Grande Ronde Hospital over its past three fiscal years, which run from May 1 to April 30:

• 2009-10 — 423.

• 2010-11 — 369.

• 2011-12 —347.

The 2011-12 figure is one Grande Ronde Hospital projected in December based on data for 2011-12 up to that point. 

Colonoscopies are the best way to screen for colorectal cancer and are covered by most insurance plans and Medicare, Linton said. However, people who are not covered by insurance or Medicare and cannot afford a colonoscopy also have two other screening options. They are:

• a high sensitivity fecal occult blood test, also known as a stool test. This test involves an analysis of stool samples. 

• a flexible sigmoidoscopy. This procedure allows doctors to check for polyps inside the rectum or lower third of the colon.

Linton said everyone age 50 and older and African Americans age 45 and older are urged to be screened regularly for colorectal cancer. She said that state data indicates that only 59 percent of Oregonians age 50 and older are screened regularly for colorectal cancer. 

Information on screening is available by calling Linton at 541-962-8836.

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