Coasters remind people to get screened for colon cancer

Coasters have been distributed to local bars and restaurants as part of the Essex Department of Health’s campaign for National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. (Provided photo — Andy Mitchell)

March was Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month — have you been screened?

Colon cancer is one of the most diagnosed forms of cancer in New York state — which is the second leading cause of death in the state, after heart disease.

Early detection is the key, says Elizabeth Terry, chronic disease outreach coordinator for the Essex County Department of Health.

In order to draw attention to the importance of being screened, the county health department launched the Bottom’s Up campaign in cooperation with 20 local bars and restaurants, distributing coasters with messages like “Cheers! Is it time to check YOUR rear? Get screened for colorectal cancer.”

The department got the idea from the Idaho Department of Health, which ran a similar campaign, Terry said.

“We are really proud to be one of 20 restaurants in Essex County raising awareness about colorectal cancer during Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month,” the Lake Placid restaurant Desparados posted on their Facebook page. “You’ll see these clever coasters at Despos, courtesy of the Essex County Health Department and designed to remind people that cancer screening is important and saves lives!”

Combining a bit of humor with a public service announcement, the initiative aims to raise the social acceptance of screening — with some fast facts on the “backside” of the coaster. Colorectal cancer often has no symptoms — but the good news is that it is one of the most preventable cancers with a good diet and exercise. It’s recommended people start getting screened at 50 years old.

“It’s kind of a reminder, but quirky at the same time,” Terry said.

Some people may need to be tested earlier. If a family member has had colon cancer, or you or a family member has had inflammatory bowel disease, or a genetic syndrome such as Lynch syndrome, you could be at risk for developing cancer earlier.

Alternatively, you can lower your risk factor by maintaining a healthy diet, Terry said. That means more vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and less red and processed meats, like bacon, sausage, lunch meat and hot dogs.

Smoking and drinking also increase a person’s risk.

In 2016 in New York State, around 4,600 men and about 4,400 women are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and about 1,600 men and about 1,600 women in die from the disease, according to the state Department of Health. It is estimated that one in 20 people will develop colorectal cancer sometime in their life.

According to the county health department, in 2016 57.2 percent of those ages 50 to 64 years old have been screened, compared to 63.7 percent statewide — excluding New York City.

To promote early testing, the county health department works with the Cancer Services Program of Northeastern NY. The program provides free breast, cervical and colon cancer screenings to uninsured or under-insured people in Clinton County, Essex County and Franklin County.

Call 518-324-7671 for more information about eligibility and screening locations.