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Inflatable exhibit aims to spread awareness about colon cancer detection

By Jamie Lampros - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Mar 3, 2024

Photo supplied, Intermountain Health

The “Let’s Get to the Bottom of Colon Cancer” display at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden is pictured Friday, March 1, 2024.

OGDEN — People born around 1990 have twice the risk of colon cancer and four times the risk of rectal cancer as those born around 1958.

The American College of Gastroenterology stated the alarming trend of younger and younger people being diagnosed with the diseases.

“Young people are also often diagnosed with more advanced cancers due to delays in detection, driving home the point that prevention is the best strategy to beat cancer,” said Dr. Kyle Eliason, director of endoscopy for Intermountain Health and also the director of gastroenterology at Intermountain McKay-Dee Hospital.

Eliason said because the screening recommendation for colon cancer is age 45, younger people need to be more vigilant about watching for symptoms such as blood in the stool, changes in bowel movements, abdominal pain, fatigue and weight loss.

“Some of the risk factors are out of our control such as having a family history of colon cancer, Type 1 diabetes, heavy drinking and smoking, previous gallbladder removal, Crohn’s disease ulcerative colitis and being of African American descent,” he said. “But the things we can control include getting enough daily fiber, not leading a sedentary lifestyle and watching our weight. Getting screened and removing polyps also reduces the risk of those polyps turning cancerous.”

Photo supplied, Intermountain Health

Kristen Warr of Farr West, who was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 36, poses for a photo near the “Let’s Get to the Bottom of Colon Cancer” display at McKay-Dee Hospital in Ogden on Friday, March 1, 2024.

Eliason was at McKay-Dee Hospital on Friday to help kick off the second annual “Let’s Get to the Bottom of Colon Cancer” campaign, an interactive opportunity for the public to walk through two 12-foot high, 113-pound inflatable colons. During the tour, people can see the different stages of colon cancer, starting with the earliest stage of a precancerous colon polyp.

“Screening can reduce colon cancer by 90%,” Eliason said. “We know a lot of people who don’t want to do it. They don’t like going through the prep where we have to give them a drink to help completely clear out the colon, but the prep is much easier compared to surgery and chemotherapy to treat the cancer.”

Kristen Warr, 38, of Farr West, agrees. Warr was diagnosed at the age of 36 when she noticed some blood in her stool. Because she had children, she said doctors assumed the bleeding was from hemorrhoids, but something just didn’t feel right, so she kept pushing for answers.

“I was really tired and just didn’t have any energy at all,” she said. “I got pretty pushy about getting a colonoscopy and they found a relatively small polyp. The doctor actually didn’t think it was anything to worry about, but it came back cancerous.”

A week later, after receiving a CT scan, Warr said it was discovered the cancer had spread to her liver.

“That’s when they diagnosed me with stage 4 cancer. I went through immunotherapy and chemotherapy every two weeks,” she said. “That was in 2021 and I was given a year to live, but here I am and so far there’s no evidence of the disease in my body.”

Rob Green, 41, of West Point, a nurse anesthetist at McKay-Dee Hospital and Intermountain Layton Hospital, said nearly three years ago, he was one stage away from getting colon cancer and didn’t know it. After noticing some occasional blood in his stool for about a year and realizing they were similar to the symptoms of Warr, his sister-in-law, he scheduled a colonoscopy.

During the procedure, Eliason discovered and removed a 3-centimeter tubulovillous adenoma, which is a large polyp usually considered precancerous that can transform into a malignant tumor if not caught in time.

“Cancer prevented,” Eliason said. “Had he waited until he was 45, he would be dealing with colon cancer.”

Regardless, signage accompanying the colon tour exhibit instructs visitors that “The new recommended age for people with average risk for colon cancer screening begins at age 45.”

Dr. Nathan Merriman, medical director of gastroenterology and digestive health at Intermountain Health, said the colon tour is an opportunity to spread awareness to patients and their families about the importance of knowing their risk and what screening test is best for them to reduce colon cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates more than 53,000 Americans will die from colon cancer this year alone, making it the second-leading cause of all cancer-related deaths in the country.

“Colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable,” Merriman said. “Finding and removing precancerous growths during a colonoscopy can prevent cancer from developing. Delays in screening could lead to a delayed cancer diagnosis. A screening can really save a life and protect a family. We need everyone’s help to work together to prevent colon cancer across our communities.”

The inflatable colon will be at the following hospitals:

  • Monday — Intermountain Layton Hospital, 201 W. Layton Parkway, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • March 13 — Utah Valley Hospital, 1034 N. 500 West, Provo, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • March 15 — Orem Community Hospital, 331 N. 400 West. 10 a.m. to noon.


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