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March 2008 Issue

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Traveling Display Focuses on 'Taboo' Health Topic

By Amanda Harper
Published March 2008

It's big. It's filled with polyps. And it's coming to Cincinnati to encourage local residents to get screened for colorectal cancer.


No, this is not a strange dream: A gigantic colon replica will be on display in Cincinnati this month to reinforce the fact that colorectal cancer screening saves lives.


Known as Coco the Colossal Colon, this wacky 40-foot replica of the human colon was created by cancer survivor Molly McMaster after she was diagnosed and treated for colorectal cancer at age 23.


Standing 4 feet tall, the jumbo crawl-through educational display includes examples of healthy colon tissue, several noncancerous diseases of the colon, polyps (precancerous masses) and various stages of colorectal cancer. 


The Colossal Colon is dedicated to the memory of McMaster's friend, Amanda Sherwood Roberts, who lost her battle with colon cancer at age 27. Since its debut on the "Today" show in 2002, "Coco" has traveled to more than 100 cities around the United States and Canada. 


"This project is a great way to educate as many people as possible-as early as possible-about colorectal cancer in an interesting, out-of-the-box way," says Janice Rafferty, MD, associate professor and chief of colorectal surgery at UC.


"We're passionate about early cancer detection. When the disease is caught early, surgery is more likely to be curative so we encourage people to get screened by a gastrointestinal specialist," she adds.


Rafferty says most people resist getting the simple screening test-known as colonoscopy-even though colorectal cancer kills almost 50,000 Americans each year.


"The Colossal Colon infuses a bit of humor into the topic and makes it easier for everyone to talk about," says Rafferty, who sees patients at Christ Hospital. "Giving people information about how and why people should have colonoscopies takes away the mystery and fear."


Colonoscopy is a screening exam that allows physicians to directly inspect the entire colon for potentially cancerous growths.


During a traditional colon-oscopy, the patient is sedated and the physician uses a fiber-optic scope equipped with a camera to inspect the entire colon.


In contrast, the virtual exam requires no sedation and uses a series of rapidly acquired CT scans to diagnose any problems. The virtual procedure takes about 20 minutes and the patient can immediately resume normal activities. The traditional procedure takes about an hour, plus recovery time from sedation.


The Colossal Colon will be on display as part of a health fair from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. March 15 and 16. The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place at TriHealth Health & Fitness Pavilion, 6200 Pfeiffer Rd. 


In addition to self-guided tours through the Colossal Colon and free educational materials, the health fair will feature local doctors' presentations on healthy lifestyles, cancer prevention and early detection and advanced treatments for colorectal cancer.


Bradley Davis, MD, a UC colorectal surgeon, will talk about modern surgery for colorectal disease at 10 a.m. Sunday, March 16.


"These types of events are critical to spread the message that colorectal cancer is preventable and very treatable," says Davis, assistant professor of surgery at UC and co-chair of the Hamilton County American Cancer Society (ACS) Colorectal Cancer Taskforce.


To schedule an appointment with a colorectal surgeon, call (513) 929-0104. For traditional colonoscopies, call (513) 475-7505. For virtual colonoscopies, call (513) 475-8755.

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