Newswise — Colon cancer didn’t get a chance to get started with Cathy Crawford, and for that she can thank a billboard that spurred her to finally get a colonoscopy.
When Crawford turned 50, her doctor recommended that she have the procedure. She filed away the card with the clinic's number on it and promptly forgot about it.
But five years later, a billboard advertisement caught her eye when she on the way to work in Lexington, S.C. Part of a statewide campaign organized by the University of South Carolina's Center for Colon Cancer Research, the billboard reminded passing motorists to get a colonoscopy by age 50. It was the spring of 2008, and Crawford was 55.
After driving past it a few more times, she dug up the old card, made an appointment, and had a colonoscopy shortly thereafter – and none too soon.
The test showed a very large polyp – the precursor to a cancerous tumor – that was growing into the colon wall. "My doctor said I was probably three to six months from colon cancer treatment," Crawford said. "He says I'm the poster child for early detection."
Crawford suffered through months of anxiety after the polyp was removed. She worried that cancer might have taken hold, but follow-up visits to doctors have shown no signs.
A colonoscopy may well have saved Crawford's life, and her case illustrates the two hurdles everyone of a certain age needs to clear: first, awareness – then, action.
"Knowing that you need to be screened is very important," said Frank Berger, director of USC's Center for Colon Cancer Research. "I had worked for years in basic scientific research, but leading this center has made it clear to me how powerful screening can be in reducing cancer cases and fatalities."
The center has pursued a wide range of outreach programs. The billboard that spurred Crawford's action is part of a March campaign – March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month – that the center has helped organize yearly since 2007.
The efforts to increase awareness are paying off. Screening rates have gone up, and cancer rates have gone down in South Carolina in recent years. "We're making progress here," Berger said.
But as Crawford's experience attests, more must be done. Although her doctor recommended a colonoscopy, it just didn't register in her mind as a priority until it was nearly too late.
And for some, a colonoscopy even before age 50 is the recommendation. "African-Americans and people with relatives who have had colon cancer should get screened even earlier," Berger said.
In the end, someone else can help you with the awareness, but action is up to you. Make the appointment if it's time.