Maine CDC Press Release

March 3, 2005

Mainers Over 50 Urged to Screen for Colon Cancer

All Mainers over the age of 50 are strongly encouraged to get educated during the month of March on the importance of regular screening for colon cancer.

Dora Ann Mills, MD, MPH Barbara Leonard, MPH
Director & State Health Officer Director of the Division of Community Healh
Maine Bureau of Health Maine Bureau of Health
Dept. of Health & Human Services Dept. of Health & Human Services
Phone:  (207) 287-8016 Phone:  (207) 287-8016
TTY: (207) 287-8066 TTY: (207) 287-8066

Augusta, ME – March 3, 2005 – Colon cancer - it kills more Mainers every year than traffic accidents. It causes more Maine deaths than breast cancer. In fact, Maine has the eighth highest mortality rate for colon cancer in the United States. That’s why all Mainers over the age of 50 are strongly encouraged to get educated during the month of March on the importance of regular screening for colon cancer.

“Deaths from colon cancers are very preventable if caught in time. People over the age of 50 need to educate themselves, talk to their doctor and get tested – it’s as simple as that,” said Dr. Dora Mills, head of the Maine Department of Health and Human Service’s Bureau of Health. “The routine tests are simple and some can be performed right in a doctor’s office. It’s a few minutes that can literally save your life.”

In recognition of March being Colon Cancer Awareness month, the Bureau of Health’s Maine Comprehensive Cancer Control Program is launching a new education campaign urging Mainers to learn all they can about colon cancer – and get themselves tested. The campaign includes a television commercial, public relations and public health outreach.

The campaign will be kicked off today, 1 p.m., at a State House press conference in the Governor’s Cabinet Room. Speakers will include Dr. Mills and a colon cancer survivor.

There are a number of recommended screening methods for colon cancer. They include Fecal Occult Blood test (FOBT), which checks for microscopic traces of blood in the stool, as well as the Flexible Sigmoidoscopy and Colonoscopy, both of which enable a physician to examine the colon directly for the presence of polyps. In addition to screening, health experts recommend that people reduce their risk for colon cancer by among other things, increasing their level of physical activity, reducing red meat consumption, limiting alcohol and not smoking.

As many as 800 people are diagnosed with colon cancer in Maine each year, and approximately 300 die from the disease. It is estimated that regular screening could prevent as many as 50% of those fatalities. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people who are diagnosed with the early stage of colon cancer have 5-year survival rates of 90% - a figure that drops to roughly 10% if the cancer is allowed to progress too long.

The Maine Comprehensive Cancer Control Program is joined by the American Cancer Society and the Maine Cancer Foundation in getting the word out about the importance of testing. “We’re grateful for the contributions of these organizations in educating Maine citizens on the importance of colon cancer screening,” Mills continued. “Their efforts will help us make a real difference in the fight against this terrible disease.”

“It’s critical that people over 50 talk to their doctor about these tests. Information is a powerful tool in the fight against any disease – but given the numbers, the stakes for colon cancer are awfully high for people to stay uninformed,” Dr. Mills concluded.