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Running for Colorectal Cancer Awareness

March 18, 2011

SEATTLE - As part of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the Mercer Island Rotary Club will raise awareness and funds for prevention this weekend with its annual Half-Marathon event that attracts runners from around the Northwest.

Colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer in Washington, but one-third of the state's residents age 50 and older have not been screened, even if they have health insurance to cover a colonoscopy. Of uninsured Washingtonians in that age group, two-thirds haven't been screened.

Even so, the American Cancer Society (ACS) says both the incidence and death rates are on the decline - and according to Dr. Richard Denning, it all starts with early detection.

"The way that it prevents colon cancer is that, when a colonoscopy is done, little polyps are removed that could have cells in them that would lead to a cancer. By removing them before they develop a cancer, you actually prevent a cancer from happening."

The nature of the exam makes people apprehensive, Denning says, and they assume if they don't have any symptoms they don't need the test. However, if everyone 50 and older had their colonoscopies on schedule, the ACS says, 60 percent of deaths from colon cancer would be prevented.

Washington state law requires that insurance companies cover colonoscopies for people older than 50, which is generally the age when screenings are recommended - unless colon cancer runs in the family. Robert Webster is a survivor - and so is his daughter, who was diagnosed at age 20.

"If you've had a history of it in your family, particularly at younger ages - both my mother and grandmother had it at age 36 - your likelihood to have it at an early age is much stronger."

Webster, who now volunteers for the ACS, says regular screenings and exercise, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet - with lots of fresh produce and not much red meat or alcohol - are part of the colon-cancer prevention strategy.

The Half-Marathon events include a Pre-Race Exposition on Saturday and the race on Sunday. More information is online at www.mercerislandhalf.com.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA