Colorectal Cancer Awareness: Don’t take advice from Homer Simpson

March is colorectal cancer awareness month. One of the latest victims of this common disease was the co-creator of “The Simpson’s,” Sam Simon, who succumbed March 8, 2015 after a courageous 4 year battle against colon cancer.  But his created character Homer Simpson said, “Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”  Here’s why you shouldn’t take advice from Homer and trust your inner instincts (and your health care provider) instead:

  • Colorectal (colon and rectum) cancer is one of the most common cancers among men and women.
  • Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in Montana.
  • While Gallatin, Park and Sweet Grass counties have the lowest rates of colorectal cancer deaths in Montana, according to our latest Community Health Assessment data we still have work to do in order to make sure we continue to prevent colorectal cancer in our community. Here’s why:
    • Among adults 50 and older (the recommended age to start colorectal cancer screening) over two-thirds of those surveyed had either a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy at some point in their lives, while better than Montana findings we fall far below national findings.
    • For blood stool tests–an easy, take home screening that can be done annually—only 29.8% of those surveyed had completed this test in the past 2 years. Again, much lower than the national findings.

Progress against colorectal cancer has continued. Today, over 65 percent of people with colorectal cancer can be cured (compared to 50 percent in 1970), but only if you are diagnosed with early stages of the disease. And that is what we must learn, especially this month, from Sam Simon’s story and from our other celebrities.

Here are tips to prevent and screen for colorectal cancer, tips which can save your life.

Live a healthy lifestyle:

  • You should take steps to prevent colon cancer by eating a cancer-preventive diet (less red meat, more fiber and nuts and grains, less fat, and 5 helpings of fruits or veggies per day), exercising, limiting alcohol to 1 or 2 drinks per day, keeping your weight normal, and stopping smoking.

Early Detection—Regular Cancer Screenings:

  • Cure rates are higher if cancer is detected at an early stage. You can detect colon cancer at a more curable stage by getting a colonoscopy, or checking for blood in the stool (using a fecal occult blood test FOBT or fecal immunochemical test FIT), Catching this cancer earlier means less extensive surgery, less likelihood of needing a colostomy, and better chance of surviving. Worried about costs? Our cancer screening program might be able to help you cover those costs.

So when Homer Simpson said, “Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand,” this is the wrong message for you related to colon cancer. Homer’s creator Sam Simon has left us with an important message: understand colon cancer, and also care about improving your diet and health habits, asking your doctor to order those screening tests, and pay attention to any symptoms your body is giving you.