Checking Up On Health: August 4, 2015

Health Policy News and Views
Compiled by Benita M. Dodd



On Sunday, colon cancer took the life of a very dear, longtime friend and former colleague at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The tributes to Frank Hyland, a fine author, sportswriter, editor and all-round classical journalist are both poignant and hilarious.

It’s consoling when someone leaves you with the finest of memories. I have a feeling Frank’s busily reviewing obits and checking game stats at the Pearly Gates while we’re still here chuckling about his shenanigans. And if you haven’t read his book, “The Sportin’ Life of Lewis Grizzard,” you’re missing some great, irreverent newsroom tales!

It got me thinking again about colon cancer and screenings. My mother-in-law, too, succumbed to cancer that metastasized after starting out as colon cancer. She fought a long and courageous fight, but when it resurfaced as bone cancer, her weakened system gave up the fight.

My mother-in-law had a family history of colon cancer. The family always wondered whether a colonoscopy would have discovered earlier than the barium enema test. E that as it may, as technology advances, the methods of testing for colorectal cancer increase and doctors are able to detect abnormalities earlier. Whether it’s always worth treating (advanced age, terrible complications of an immune system weakened by the treatment, insignificant polyp, etc.) is a personal decision based on expert medical counsel.

Former colleagues of The Atlanta Journal (from before its merger with the Constitution) catch up at our annual reunion in 2013; our friend Frank Hyland is third from the right.

Former colleagues of The Atlanta Journal (from before its merger with the Constitution) catch up at our annual reunion in 2013. Colon cancer claimed the life of our dear friend and colleague Frank Hyland, (standing, third from the right).

I’ve always said I’ll take my chances, spend my “fortune” on doing the things I never had a chance to … As I’m sure you know, talk is cheap and all bets are off when you’re confronted with such a diagnosis.

Of course, the best way to live your life is not to wait until the end to experience it to the fullest. And my friend Frank lived a marvelous life with a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters.

According to the American Cancer Society, excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. It estimates 93,090 new cases of colon cancer and 39,610 new cases of rectal cancer in 2015. And it says mortality rates are 30-40 percent higher in men than in women. I suspect that’s because we women have to drag men to the doctor, kicking and screaming. More than 90 percent of the cases in men occur to those over age 50.

Don’t become part of those statistics. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about one in 20 (5 percent). If it’s detected early, the chances of surviving are better than good.

According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, black Americans are at higher risk of developing colon cancer and a lower survival rate (about 20 percent higher incidence rate and 45 percent higher mortality rate). It’s not because they’re more prone, but because of disproportionate screening.

  • Find out more from the Colon Cancer Alliance, the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  • If you or someone you know will need help paying for colorectal cancer screening, click on this link to find out about financial assistance.
  • And if you’re curious about how much trouble physicians can encounter for messing with your fears, you should read this.
  • For good measure, here’s some sound advice about living wills and the dreaded “end of life” discussion. Everyone should take this step (as I should!) while of sound mind (not yet incapacitated) or watch this video to see what could happen.

Fact: At least three out of 10 Georgians over 50 have not undergone a colorectal cancer screening.

Quotes of Note

“In short, it’s hard to whittle with a wood chipper. As a patient, you can’t just tiptoe up to an ER with hopes for a band-aid. You’re all in, or you’re out. EMTALA [the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act] has had its intended effect, but beware its side effects.” – Dr. Sam Slishman, “You have a right to be seen in the ER, but beware of the side effects.”

“Because business has taken over medicine, one of the easy ways to lessen costs is to expedite hospitalized patients to end-of-life care. Hospitals are paid a lump sum by Medicare, so they avoid costly intensive care units, decrease tests, and reduce patient length of stay; HMOs are able to financially wash their hands of their medical obligations; hospice care organizations enhance their business; and skilled nursing facilities (nursing homes) are now the final destination of the Greatest Generation.” – Dr. Gene Uzawa Dorio