Colorectal cancer screening has proven to save lives.  Virginia Cooperative Extension has made the pledge to help increase colorectal cancer screening rates by supporting "80% by 2018" — an initiative to reduce colorectal cancer as a major public health problem. The program is being led by the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable (an organization co-founded by the ACS and CDC).

Colorectal cancer is the nation’s second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths; however, it is one of only a few cancers that can be prevented. Through proper colorectal cancer screening, doctors can find and remove hidden growths called “polyps” in the colon before they become cancerous. Removing polyps can prevent cancer altogether.

More than 750 organizations have committed to 80 percent by 2018, and they are working toward the shared goal of 80 percent of adults aged 50 and older being screened regularly for colorectal cancer by 2018.

“Colorectal cancer is a major public health problem," said Carlin Rafie, assistant professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and Virginia Cooperative Extension adult nutrition specialist.  "Adults age 50 and older should be regularly screened for it. Despite this, we have found that many people aren’t getting tested because they don’t believe they are at risk, don’t understand that there are testing options, or don’t think they can afford it."

“The truth is that the vast majority of cases of colorectal cancer occur in people age 50 and older. Colorectal cancer in its early stages usually has no symptoms, so everyone 50 and older should get tested," said Rafie. "There are several screening options available — even take-home options. Plus, many public and private insurance plans cover colorectal cancer screening, and there may be local resources available to help those who are uninsured.”

As part of the campaign, VCE faculty will collaborate with colleagues from the University of Virginia to implement its Colon Cancer Free Zone program throughout Virginia Cooperative Extension. The unique positioning of Extension, with 107 offices across Virginia, will allow for the internal promotion of a colorectal-cancer-free workforce, and also help to expand the reach of the program to at least 586,600 Virginians who need to be screened in order for Virginia to reach the desired 80 percent screening rate.

“Virginia Cooperative Extension is in an ideal position to be a key player in this effort to improve colorectal cancer screening rates,” said Edwin Jones, director of Virginia Cooperative Extension. “We are asking all of our employees to come together and help us by getting screened and by talking to their friends and family who are over 50 years of age about getting screened. Together, we can help to eliminate colorectal cancer as a major public health problem.”

Extension employees will be encouraged to get screened and to participate in a series of educational webinars. The first webinar — “Colorectal Cancer: What Is It and How Do I Get Screened?” — will be offered Tuesday, June 7, at noon. The webinars are free and open to the public. For more information about the webinar series and additional resources, visit the Virginia Cooperative Extension 80% by 2018 website.

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