Preventable, treatable and beatable: County encourages colorectal cancer screening

March 26, 2015

The Board of County Commissioners proclaimed March as Colorectal Health Awareness Month in Multnomah County at their regular weekly meeting on Thursday.

During the meeting, LaRish Baker, program supervisor with Multnomah County Health Department’s Early Childhood Services shared some eye-opening colorectal cancer facts with the board: 

● Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of preventable death in Multnomah County.

● 1 in 20 men and women will develop colorectal cancer.

● Cases in people under age 50 are increasing. The average age of diagnosis is now 44.

● Screening does work. The mortality rate went down 30 percent in 2013 because of early detection.

Baker-- who started the Steve Baker Colorectal Cancer Alliance with her sisters in honor of their father who passed away from the disease  in 2008 -- told the board how county colleagues have reached out in the days leading up to the proclamation.

Health Department employees pose under the Strollin Colon, a large inflated cross section of a model colon.

“Over the last couple of days... I’ve received random emails from co-workers, employees here at Multnomah County sharing their stories with me,” said Baker.

Gretchen Caplener, health systems manager at the American Cancer Society, also expressed her support of the proclamation to the board.

Caplener said that the American Cancer Society has brought organizations together from across the country to achieve a shared goal of getting 80 percent of adults 50 and over being  regularly and appropriately screened for colorectal cancer by 2018. 

Commissioner Loretta Smith, who brought forth the proclamation stressed how important screening is, especially for members of the African American community.

“Within the community African Americans, they die from colorectal cancer at rates higher than any other group,” said Smith.  “For African Americans, who are disproportionately affected by colon cancer the recommended screening age is at 45.”

“Early detection is key and can save lives.”

During board comment Commissioners Jules Bailey, Diane McKeel and Judy Shiprack shared stories of how colorectal cancer has touched each of their lives.

Commissioner Bailey spoke about a close friend who, despite the fact that he was only in his 30s, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. While Commissioner McKeel spoke about losing her father to the disease. 

“My father died of colon cancer at age 51,” said McKeel.  “That was in the late 60s when we didn’t have screenings and didn’t have the awareness and information around it.”

McKeel, now an avid proponent of colonoscopies, has undergone the screening several times and encourages others to do the same.

“I nag my friends to go get their colonoscopies... It’s just that important to me.”

Commissioner Shiprack spoke about her husband’s diagnosis and ultimate victory over colorectal cancer. 

“The experience on an individual basis of colon cancer is very frightening and lonely,” said Shiprack. “My husband and I went through that door together. He was the one with colon cancer and he is completely recovered. And I’m sure he’d be happy to be here today if he weren’t out fishing.’’

The Cancer Society and Multnomah County will team up Tuesday, March 31 to bring the Strollin’ Colon (a large inflated cross section of a model colon) to the Multicultural Room in the Multnomah County East Building, 600 N.E. 8th St., Gresham from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.