March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Emmanuelle J. Meuillet, PhD
Emmanuelle J. Meuillet, PhD

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to think about the third-most-lethal cancer in both men and women. Colon cancer is a disease that can be prevented, treated and cured. But it takes action on your part.

According to a new report from the American Cancer Society, more than 140,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year and the disease will claim more than 49,000 lives in the United States. In Arizona in 2010, 2,620 new cases of colon and rectum cancer were estimated and more than 1,000 Arizonans died of the disease, according to the report.

"Colorectal cancer is one cancer that is relatively easy to detect at an early and curable stage," says Tomislav Dragovich, MD, PhD, co-leader of The University of Arizona Cancer Center's gastrointestinal cancer research program, and a member of the Cancer Center's gastrointestinal cancers multidisciplinary team.

"There are well developed screening guidelines for healthy people as well as for those that already have family history of colon cancer. If those guidelines are to be fully implemented across the country, the death rate from colorectal cancer can be cut in half in the US. The Arizona Cancer Center is a research leader in the area of colon cancer prevention" Dr. Dragovich says.

A recent trial led by Eugene Gerner, PhD, showed a dramatic decrease in the rate of precancerosus colon polyps after treatment with DFMO and sulindac, Dr. Dragovich notes. In addition, healthy lifestyle and diet are likely to decrease the risk of developing colon cancer and reduce risk of cancer recurrence. A recent study from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston showed that patients with surgically removed stage II and III colon cancer may benefit from diet rich in vegetable oils, nuts and fresh fruits and vegetables (Mediterranean diet) in terms of decreased risk of colorectal cancer recurrence he says.

The new cancer cases could be prevented by increased screening tests and by adhering to preventive measures, such as:

  • Increased physical activity
  • Maintaining a proper body weight
  • Consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Limiting intake of red and processed meats
  • Limiting intake of alcohol
  • Not smoking

Screening can help prevent colon cancer because most colorectal cancers develop from adenomatous polyps, non-cancerous growths. While most polyps will not become cancerous, removing them during a colonoscopy can prevent cancer from occurring. Being screened at recommended frequencies after age 50, or sooner if there is a family history of colon cancer, increases the chances of detecting cancer at an earlier stage.

At The University of Arizona Cancer Center, our physicians, clinic staff and scientists conduct cutting-edge research and bring the latest advances in cancer treatment directly to our patients.

The Arizona Cancer Center is one of just 40 National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the U.S., and we're doing research to prevent and combat colon cancer. Our center is one of just five in the country to host a Specialized Program of Research Excellence in gastrointestinal cancers.

Here are a few highlights of the many research efforts under way at The Univeristy of Arizona Cancer Center:

  • Arizona Cancer Center scientist Emmanuelle J. Meuillet, PhD, has been awarded a five-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study the role of inflammation in colon carcinogenesis and to develop a new targeted therapy to treat colon cancer. Read more>>
  • Arizona Cancer Center scientist Elizabeth Jacobs, PhD, has been awarded a $1.5 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to research vitamin D and its role in colon cancer. Read more>>
  • Arizona Cancer Center scientist Jesse Martinez, PhD, has been awarded a $993,584 grant from the National Cancer Institute to research chemoprevention of colon cancer. Read more>>
  • Arizona Cancer Center researchers announced that a special combination of drugs has been shown to reduce the risk of recurrent colorectal polyps by up to 95 percent. Read more>>

The Arizona Cancer Center offers clinical trials of promising theapies to our patients. Learn more: Find a Clinical Trial

Listen to patient Ernest Schloss discuss how a colonoscopy detected his cancer.

More information about colorectal cancer is available from the American Society of Clinical Oncology's