Bringing awareness to Colorectal Cancer

Published 8:00 am Sunday, March 17, 2024

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In recognition of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Sentara Obici Hospital held a program to help educate and break the stigma around colorectal health.

In partnership with Richmond-based nonprofit Hitting Cancer Below the Belt, Sentara held a Colorectal Cancer Awareness Event on Friday, March 8, at Sentara Obici Hospital. The event included an inflatable colon, trivia games, and an information presentation by Virginia Gastroenterology Institute Gastroenterologist Dr. Pramod Malik to help educate the Suffolk community about the disease.

Malik talked about the rise of colorectal cancer among people ages 20 to 49 years old due to poor diet choices, lack of activity, and especially lack of awareness.

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“We’re diagnosing colon cancer in people as young as in their 20s. We have several patients that have been diagnosed below the age of 30, so that’s the other reason why we’re trying to get this message out,” Malik said.

Due to knowing the stages where colon cancer pops up, Malik says that it is highly preventable and stresses the importance of early screenings.

 “It starts from a small polyp, which is a growth that can be easily removed through a scope, and as time goes on the growth becomes bigger and becomes big enough that it can spread into the surrounding organs, and at that point, the only thing you can do is surgery,” he said. “So, there is no question that if you get at an early stage, you take the polyp out, you’ve taken out the seed for the cancer. And that’s why early screening is critical.”

Hitting Cancer Below the Belt Executive Director Mindy Conklin, who founded the nonprofit in 2013 after her husband’s death from the disease at age 43, discussed partnering with Sentara for the event.

“Partnering with health systems such as Sentara literally makes a much deeper impact,” said Conklin. “Sentara saves lives, Hitting Cancer Below the Belt saves lives, but when you partner with the hospital system, you actually save more lives and that’s the whole point of all this.”

Noting the “high incidence rate” of colorectal cancer in the Western Tidewater area and in the Black community, Sentara Obici Hospital Community Health Educator Ursala Bowe expressed the need for education of the disease.

“We do not know for sure why colorectal cancer numbers are rising in younger people not only in our area but across the country,” Bowe said. “However, it is important to understand the preventive measures that can be taken because colorectal cancer in most cases is preventable. We want to make sure our community members have access to the education and resources needed to ensure colorectal cancer is prevented, early screening is promoted and the options for treatment are available. It is of vital importance to us as Community Health Educators to make sure we are reaching our most vulnerable and at-risk population with our mission, And that is to promote awareness through lead-time messaging.”

Bowe continued. 

“This is why partnerships like the one we have created with Mindy Conklin, founder of Hitting Cancer Below the Belt, and her team are so important to offer that engagement piece to talk about such a hard topic as colorectal cancer. Don’t wait until symptoms start. Preventive care can save your life!”