UHA Worksite Wellness

Colon Cancer Awareness

Written by George McPheeters, MD, FACS on January 30, 2017. Posted in Healthcare


Cancer of the colon and rectum are closely related but somewhat different in their symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.  Taken together, “colorectal” cancer is the third most deadly form of cancer and the third most common cancer (based on new cases each year) affecting both men and women.

Why Early Detection is Key

Colorectal cancer, perhaps more than other malignancies, may develop through a sequence of benign to malignant growths with the accumulation of mutations in the cells lining the inside of the colon and rectum.  It is this process which is usually, but not always, gradual that allows for effective screening and the proverbial “nipping in the bud” of precancerous growths (polyps) or early cancers, which have not spread to lymph nodes or other organs, and remain truly curable.

Many people find a discussion, let alone an examination of their bowels, to be “embarrassing” or awkward.  Many folks do not accept the fact of “natural aging” and the changes that accompany it, not the least of which is the accumulation of changes in our genetic material that put us at risk for cancer.  Many of us are busy and do not give time to the maintenance of our health.  For all these reasons, and others, lots of people do not obtain a screening for colorectal cancer as suggested by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) and many other professional organizations.

Who’s At Risk?

Within the past year, studies have shown that colorectal cancer is affecting people at younger ages and that ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by this cancer.  Therefore, UHA feels a special responsibility to its membership, which is ethnically diverse and on average younger than the population of Hawaii at large, to encourage and cover screening.  UHA covers all of the legitimate screening methods at 100%. We actively encourage members to discuss these with their physicians and to pursue testing. 

For a second year, we are observing Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March by offering home F.I.T. (Fecal Immunochemical Testing) kits to our members (ages 51 through 75) who have not had any of the following: a colonoscopy in the past 10 years; flex-sigmoidoscopy in the past five years; and FOBT (Fecal Occult Blood Testing) in the past year.  This program was launched for the first time last year and has already helped one UHA member, who shared with us that their F.I.T. Kit results tested positive and that they scheduled a colonoscopy to verify the results.

Although last year’s return rate for the kits was only 8.3%, it is a simple, inexpensive test that could benefit our members. We hope that by continuing to offer this to our members who qualify, we can improve compliance with testing and join the Honolulu Chapter of the Cancer Society to raise awareness of this very preventable and treatable disease.  If you would like to know more, please call our Health Care Services department at (808) 532-4006 or 1-800-458-4600, extension 300, from the neighbor islands.

How would you talk with a loved one about  the importance of getting screened for colorectal cancer?

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George McPheeters, MD, FACS

UHA Chief Medical Officer

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