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March Hero of the Month: Colon Cancer Alliance CEO Andrew Spiegel

Exact Sciences: Thank you again for participating in our Hero of the Month column. Could you please start off by explaining your personal connection with colon cancer?

Andrew Spiegel: In 1998, my mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer. She had numerous symptoms of the disease, which were ignored by her doctors until it was too late. She died nine months after being diagnosed.

When she was diagnosed, I searched for a patient support or advocacy organization dedicated to colon cancer, and was shocked to learn there was none. How could a disease which affected 1 in 19 Americans (now 1 in 20) and which was the 2nd leading cause of cancer death not have a non-profit representing the community?

It was then, that I, along with a group of others founded the Colon Cancer Alliance to help bring greater public awareness to the disease and to provide support for those already affected.

Since then, the CCA has grown tremendously and is the world’s leading advocacy group in the battle against colorectal cancer. The CCA helps more than 600,000 people each year through its numerous patient support and awareness programs.

Exact Sciences: CCA does a lot of work to help raise awareness of this disease. Can you share with us one or two current initiatives that you are most excited about?

Andrew Spiegel: Traditionally, colon cancer has been a disease few wanted to talk about. As a result, more than 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease and 50,000 die each year. Colon cancer affects 1.2 million Americans.

This is also a disease which has been largely ignored by corporate America and celebrities. That is starting to change and we are beginning to secure partnerships with corporations and helping their employees stay healthy and we are receiving financial support to help spread the word about this most preventable disease.

In addition, we are soon launching a new media campaign with movie star Terrence Howard to send the screening message to the public.

I am also excited about our new global partnership with the European colon cancer advocacy group, EuropaColon. Together we launched the Global Colon Cancer Alliance to begin tackling a disease that claims more than 600,000 lives annually worldwide. Learn more at www.globalcca.org.

Exact Sciences: In your opinion, why is it important for people to be educated about the disease and the prevention methods?

Andrew Spiegel: Colon cancer is the most preventable major cancer.

Think about this: When a woman gets a mammogram, she is trying to detect cancer at its earliest possible stages when treatment is most effective.

When a man goes for prostate cancer testing, his goal is the same. When one goes for colon cancer screening, you can actually prevent getting the disease by removing pre-cancerous polyps from which most colon cancers form.

You remove the polyp, you avoid the cancer. It’s that simple. You also have the opportunity to find cancers are their earliest stages too by screening. So this cancer can be prevented through screening which makes the case for awareness of this disease extremely strong.

Exact Sciences: Where do you see research/treatments of this disease in 5 years? What do you hope will happen/change?

Andrew Spiegel: I feel the best opportunity for improving the colon cancer landscape on the research side, is in the area of prevention.

The colonoscopy, while highly effective, also can prevent some from getting screened. We constantly hear about the prep (it’s necessary to cleanse the bowel), the fasting, the anesthesia and having to take off from work as barriers to getting screened for colon cancer.

While none of these is an excuse for getting a disease that affects 5 percent of the population, there is no debate that a segment of the population simply will not get a colonoscopy. This is especially true in underserved communities which have the lowest screening rates in the U.S.

There is a great need for highly effective alternative screening methods to truly move the dial in raising the screening rates in this country. Currently, one third of the U.S. population does not get screened for colon cancer, and in my opinion, that will not change significantly until easier, less invasive tests are developed.

Exact Sciences: Lastly, what is one thing that you would like people to take away from your story?

Andrew Spiegel: I want people to know there are no longer valid excuses to not screen for this preventable disease.

Colon cancer is expected to be the number one cause of cancer deaths worldwide by the year 2020. People know about this disease. With 1 in 20 Americans being diagnosed with colon cancer, almost no one’s family will be untouched.

Treatment costs to battle this disease hover around $15 billion per year. The disease affects men and women equally, all races, all ages and all ethnic backgrounds. No one is immune to colon cancer.

Our motto is: “Don’t be embarrassed to death.” Get screened. It’s one less thing to worry about in life. And isn’t that a great thing?

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