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Davis Journal

Intermountain Health’s giant inflatable colon offers a unique colorectal perspective

Mar 30, 2023 10:04AM ● By Peri Kinder

Dr. Austin Cannon, colon and rectal surgeon at Intermountain Medical Center, stands inside the giant inflatable colon. With the giant colon, visual learners can better understand how polyps in the colon change over time. Photo City Journals

According to the medical community, early-onset colorectal cancer will become the leading cancer and leading cause of death for people aged 20-49 by 2030. That’s a 90% increase for colon cancer and a 124% increase for rectal cancer.

Intermountain Health took the opportunity during Colon Cancer Awareness Month in March to bring awareness to the importance of potentially life-saving screenings by holding the “Let’s Get to the Bottom of Colon Cancer” giant inflatable colon tour that traveled to 21 hospitals and clinics in Utah and Idaho. 

A walk-through tour of the 12-foot, 113-pound inflatable colon, depicts the different stages of colorectal cancer and educates patients about how to prevent this disease. 

“We want patients to be more aware of colon cancer and what it means,” said Nickole Gardner,  nurse manager at Alta View Endoscopy. “We want them to know that 45 is the new 50, that’s the new age we want people to start screening  with colonoscopies. The only way to know you have polyps is to have a colonoscopy. We can go in and see polyps long before they can turn into colon cancer or a malignant polyp. More and more people are getting diagnosed at younger ages.”

Dr. Austin Cannon, colon and rectal surgeon at Intermountain Medical Center, said the giant colon is great for visual learners to help them understand how polyps in the colon change over time, what they look like and how they can become cancerous. 

He said he sees patients all the time with no family history of colorectal cancer, who practice a healthy lifestyle and they have been diagnosed with cancer. Cannon hopes as younger people get screened, they can catch these cancers earlier and save more lives.

“For anybody who has a first-degree relative with colon cancer, the colonoscopy is the only test you should be using to screen,” Cannon said. “It’s better at identifying polyps, and if we see polyps, we can take them out before they turn into colon cancer. We can find them, look at them and treat them to reduce the risk of colon cancer actually happening.”

The American Cancer Society estimates more than 153,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, making it the third-most common cancer diagnosed for men and women, and the second leading cause of total cancer-related deaths.

Cannon would like people to get past the idea that a colonoscopy is a terrible ordeal and start normalizing the conversations about screenings to reduce the stigma and fear. 

“You’re pretty much asleep during the entire procedure,” he said. “Taking that bowel prep and having that experience is not fun, but it’s also not painful. We also try to make it not scary, knowing that all procedures can be scary.”

While the cause of the increase in colorectal cancer isn’t clear, it’s possible that rising obesity levels, especially among young people, could contribute to the rise in cancers. Sugary drinks, diets high in processed foods and sugars, and not eating enough whole foods and fiber could be adding to the risk. 

“In Utah we’re blessed because we have a pretty healthy population compared to a lot of places,” Cannon said. “The largest studies that have been done consistently show smoking, obesity and high consumption of red meat as risk factors for colon cancer. It’s just trying to live a healthy life.”