Washington D.C. colon cancer rates highest in nation

Washington D.C. has the highest rate of lives lost due to colon cancer, a new Centers for Disease Control report has revealed.

That startling ranking has local doctors and organizations stepping up efforts to raise awareness and the need to be screened to prevent the disease that affects millions of people worldwide.

For local colon cancer patient Jen Puglise of Woodbridge, the trend hit home while pregnant with her son, Rocco. During her pregnancy, instead of having bowel movements, Puglise would throw up.

When she went to a doctor for a colonoscopy, though, her former doctor said it was just pregnancy hormones and said she was too young for the procedure.

"He sent me home with Metamucil," Puglise said.

However, the symptoms continued well after Rocco was born, eventually getting so bad that she could barely eat or drink.

When her husband rushed her to Georgetown University Hospital, doctors quickly discovered tumors on her liver and pancreas. She had Stage 4 colon cancer at the age of 30.

Highest rate of death in the U.S.

Even though the number of colorectal cancer deaths nationwide is down in recent years, the new CDC report ranks Washington #1 in the country for the highest rate of colon cancer deaths. In Washington, that makes up for 21.1 per 100,000 deaths in D.C.

Dr. John Marshall and other physicians say that the trend, in part, stems from two factors - that the disease is more common in African Americans and many people aren't getting screened.

Marshall says screening is pivotal to catch colon cancer before it spreads.

"This is one of those diseases that can be caught before it's cancer in the form of a polyp," Marshall said.

Colonoscopy by 50, doctors say

Doctors recommend that everyone get a colonoscopy at the age of 50, but that African-Americans should start screening at 45 and people with a family history should start by age 40.

They say the increased awareness is needed, too. The CDC says that while 72 percent of targeted women were screened for breast cancer in 2010, only 54 percent of Americans were screened for colon cancer.

For Puglise, it has been five years since her diagnosis. She now works closely with Chris4Life, a colon cancer foundation, to increase awareness and hope.

"We feel it's such an important thing to give patients that hope," Chris4Life Executive Director Michael Sapienza said. "She's our ambassador of hope."

There is a 5K run on March 25th titled ScopeitOut5K in D.C. to raise awareness. Click here for more information.

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