The Incredible Colon

Nick Hunerkoch, a nursing student at Murray State University, gives a tour of the Incredible Colon to other students in the Curris Center Ballroom Friday. The inflatable educational tool was brought to campus by the Kentucky Cancer Program as part of a student-run health fair to recognize March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

MURRAY – Students in the Murray State University School of Nursing and Health Professions collaborated with the Kentucky Cancer Program Friday to stage a health fair recognizing March as National Colorectal Awareness Month, giving tours of a giant inflatable colon to build awareness of cancer screenings.

The educational aid, called The Incredible Colon, was on display in the Curris Center Ballroom since the building has so much foot traffic during the day. The colon replica is 20 feet long and 10 feet tall, and is designed to educate the public about colorectal cancer. Nursing students walked visitors through the replica, which includes examples of healthy colon tissue, several non-cancerous diseases of the colon, polyps and various stages of colorectal cancer. The health fair also offered free take-home screening kits, giveaways and other prizes.

The Kentucky Cancer Program is the state-mandated cancer control program jointly administered by the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky. KCP’s mission is to reduce cancer incidence and mortality by promoting cancer education, research and service programs, a news release said. Janece Franklin Everett, cancer control specialist with KCP, said colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the nation and the state. The mortality rate in Kentucky is among the highest, claiming the lives of more than 800 people each year, she said.

Everett said KCP tours the Incredible Colon around the Jackson Purchase region to raise awareness of colorectal cancer and to get people who see it to encourage their friends and family ages 50 and older to get screened.  

“We take it around to different locations to promote colon cancer screening,” Everett said. “The recommendations are to get screened at age 50 and above. If someone has a family history of colon cancer, then we want them to start screening 10 years before their family members – mother, father, sister, brother, not great or great-great-grandparents – (were diagnosed). Say their mother had colon cancer at 35, we would want them to be screened at 25. 

“If (the relative) developed cancer at 65, they’re going to start screening at 50 like everyone else, but if they had it at a young age, they’re going to go 10 years before. So if someone has a colonoscopy and everything’s perfect, they’ll usually come back every 10 years. If they have polyps, (doctors) usually have them come back every 3-5 years based on what their physician thinks.”

Everett said screenings save lives and that death is prevented with about 90 percent of cases in which patients catch colon cancer early.

Rachael Schmitz, a professor in Murray State’s nursing school, said the students ran the health fair themselves. 

“The nursing students do a project every semester in coordination with KCP,” Schmitz said. “In past semesters, we’ve done a screening where the students have individually done screenings with their sororities, fraternities or churches. We decided this semester to do a health fair in lieu of the project and to essentially put the students in charge of the health fair, to recruit people to come and provide the education. 

“Allied Health Services is also working with us through some of their courses. They had some posters; some of them are for colon cancer and some are for other types of cancer. Murray-Calloway County Hospital opened it up to their employees as a wellness pledge event, and Murray State also opened it up as a wellness pledge for people who have (the university’s) health insurance. This counts as an event they can come to and get points for.

“We’ve had a great turnout and the students are doing a great job. They’ve done everything from the marketing of it to the education (component). They’ve orchestrated all of the information they got from KCP into their education today and we’re just thrilled to work with them to have (The Incredible Colon) here on campus. It’s definitely something that is important and something that isn’t really talked about much.”

Everett said Murray State’s nursing program has had a partnership with KCP for more than 20 years to educate the community about health screenings, different types of cancer and other issues.

“The nursing students are in a unique situation because they will be educating people for the rest of their careers regarding screenings for any type of cancer, but we focused today on colon cancer,” Schmitz added. 

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