Program helps in colorectal cancer fight


When her sister died of colorectal cancer last year Barbara Boone said she took the tragedy as a warning.

Doctors told her she could be at risk because of her family history and her age - 49. So Boone had a colorectal cancer screening last summer, she said.

The colonoscopy, which was subsidized by the Washington County Health Department's Colon Cancer Prevention, Education, Screening and Treatment program, showed that Boone had benign polyps in her colon.

"They told me I got there just in time. I was real grateful," said Boone of Hagerstown.

Boone was lucky because the polyps were discovered early, said Cheryl Stouffer, an oncologist case manager with Washington County Hospital. The disease can be fatal if undetected, she said.


If discovered early enough, those diagnosed with colorectal cancer or cancer of the rectum have a 90 percent cure rate, she said.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Washington County and across the United States, according to Health Department literature.

Each year 3,000 Maryland residents, including 80 to 100 from Washington County, are diagnosed with colon cancer.

According to the most recent statistics available, there were 34 deaths from colorectal cancer in Washington County in 1999.

The Washington County Health Department will use 15 percent to 20 percent of the money it received from the Cigarette Restitution Fund to pay for a colorectal cancer screening campaign, Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel said.

Maryland was among the states that sued the tobacco industry and were awarded about $4 billion over a 25-year period in a settlement agreement, according to the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene's Annual Cancer Report.

The Health Department received about $380,000 this year and is expecting $410,000 next year as part of the settlement, Christoffel said.

The colorectal screening program is available to Washington County residents 50 and older on limited incomes.

Men and women age 50 and older are at risk for colorectal cancer, Stouffer said. So are people with a personal or family history of colon cancer, colon polyps, colitis or Crohn's disease, Stouffer said.

Edward Keets, 73, said he decided to get screened because of his age.

His colonoscopy was negative, which was a relief, he said.

"Everybody should have it done," said Keets of Hagerstown.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer can include blood in or on the stool, stomach pain, gas pain, unattributed weight loss or a lump in the abdomen.

Now healthy, Boone said she plans to stay that way by getting the recommended cancer screening every three years, and by exercising and eating right.

"Cancer can sneak up on you and you don't always recognize the symptoms," Boone said.

The two-hour colonoscopy screenings are conducted through the Health Department program at Washington County Hospital and Robinwood Medical Center.

Those interested in the colorectal screening program can call 240-420-1796 to see whether they qualify.

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