Intermountain Health says ‘Let’s Get to the Bottom of Colon Cancer’ during colon cancer awareness month

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At Intermountain Health facilities in Utah, patients and visitors are greeted with an unusual sight: a 12-foot inflatable colon. 

The curious glimpse, nicknamed “Colin the Colon,” is not a mere gimmick but is Intermountain Health’s powerful tool in the fight against colorectal cancer, a disease that will claim the lives of over 50,000 Americans in 2024, according to the American Cancer Society.

Lori Smit, the Clinical Operations Director of Endoscopy at Intermountain Health, explained the significance behind the display.

“We’re trying to humanize it and make it a little bit fun,” Smit said. “At the same time it’s a very serious topic and we’re trying to prevent suffering for our patients and their families.”

Dr. Kyle Eliason, director of endoscopy at Intermountain Health, emphasized the importance of timely screenings cannot be stated enough. 

Unlike screenings for other cancers that primarily detect cancer, colonoscopies can identify and remove precancerous polyps, effectively preventing cancer from developing. 

“With this (screening) we find a polyp, we take it out, we reduce cancer, we prevent it,” Eliason said.

Eliason underscored that symptoms of colorectal cancer can manifest in various ways, including rectal bleeding, unexplained weight loss and changes in bowel movements. 

“Pay attention to these signs and seek medical care,” Eliason said.

But it’s not just about individual awareness, it’s about spreading knowledge within families and communities.

Intermountain Health is actively promoting discussions about risk factors such as family history, with one medical director even suggesting bringing up conversations about polyps at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

“He’s not joking,” Smit said.

For Eliason, the battle against colorectal cancer started with his own family history. He became aware of the risk factors of colorectal cancer when doctors diagnosed his brother with an autoimmune disease in the liver, which made him more prone to colorectal cancer.

The doctors recommended a liver transplant and it took place on Dec. 1, 2004.

“Almost 20 years ago, I donated half of my liver to him,” Eliason said.

This personal experience of being on the patient end of medical treatment has deepened Eliason’s empathy for his patients. 

“It’s been really good to have that as a background as I talk to patients … to feel their emotions and know what they’re going through and truly, truly care,” Eliason said.

Initiatives such as Intermountain Health’s “Let’s Get to the Bottom of Colon Cancer” are crucial in raising awareness and promoting preventative measures against colorectal cancer.

With early detection and intervention, there’s hope for a brighter future for those affected by this devastating disease. The American Cancer Society estimates 90% survival rate for those diagnosed with colorectal cancer in a localized stage.

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