As an alumna of Cornell who had been thrilled by the selection of the university’s first female president, Elizabeth Garrett, last fall, I was deeply pained to learn of her untimely death from colon cancer at age 52 last month. May it be a teachable moment that could save many from a disease that will be diagnosed in an estimated 134,000 people and claim 49,000 lives in the United States this year.
Although colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer, it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, after lung cancer. Detection guidelines call for screening to begin at 50 for most people, but colon cancer is now increasing in people under 50, and everyone should be aware of the risks and early warning signs.
While the circumstances that led to President Garrett’s diagnosis have not been publicly revealed, I do know that colon cancer can nearly always be prevented through detection and removal of its precursor lesions, commonly called adenomas or adenomatous polyps. I also know that it can most often be cured if one of several screening tests leads to early detection, before the cancer has spread beyond its point of origin.
Currently, a joint effort of the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is trying to make these screening methods available to the 40 percent of Americans who have yet to be tested. The goal of this National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable, as it is called, is to get 80 percent of Americans screened for colorectal cancer by 2018.
Click here to read the full story by Jane E. Brody, New York Times.