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Health officials and cancer patients are touting the importance of screening for colorectal cancer, the third leading cause of cancer death in men and women.
Screening is the biggest thing that can save people's lives. … It's absolutely nothing compared to having go through the pain of treatment both physically and emotionally. —Dov Siporin

SALT LAKE CITY — Dov Siporin was only 33 when he learned he had stage 4 colorectal cancer and that he likely had one to two years to live, just months after he noticed symptoms of the disease.

"I got the bad lottery draw here," he said. "No family history of it, nothing. The lightning just struck."

He has a message for people over age 50: Get screened.

"To see someone who can catch it early on, who can go in there and have to drink some nasty liquid that clears you out and that's the roughest part and then they knock you out … It's easy. It's not painful. It's a little bit embarrassing, but it's the least you can do … for the people who love you," Siporin said.

The disease is highly preventable and treatable for most people if they undergo screening.

The Utah Department of Health's Kelly Robinson said 92 percent of colorectal cancers are treatable when caught early. Dr. Jewel Samadder, a gastroenterologist at the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah, said a colonoscopy can catch around 95 percent of colorectal cancers and, better yet, prevent the cancer from developing if performed early enough.

"That's one of the biggest things about colorectal cancer; If you wait until you find it on your own, then you're quite a ways (into it)," Siporin, now 39, said. "That's why screening is so important. Screening is the biggest thing that can save people's lives. … It's absolutely nothing compared to having go through the pain of treatment both physically and emotionally."

Monday, the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable, an organization co-founded by the American Cancer Society and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, announced a new initiative, "80% by 2018."

The initiative aims to see the rate of Americans over the age of 50 screened for the disease, which is the third leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women, reach 80 percent by 2018.

"This is an attainable goal," Rep. Donald Payne Jr., D-N.J., who lost his father to colorectal cancer, said. "It's lofty, but attainable because we know that screening is the key."

The initiative was announced at a news conference in Washington, D.C., Monday, the same day a new article and data were released in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, projecting that 136,830 individuals will be newly diagnosed with the disease this year and that there would be 50,310 deaths due to the cancer. That same report said the cancer's incidence is decreasing.

"As of January 1, 2012, there were almost 1.2 million Americans alive with a history of colorectal cancer, in part due to progress in early detection and treatment," the article states. "Among adults aged 50 years and older, the rate of decline has surged, particularly among those aged 65 years and older, among whom the annual percent decline accelerated from 3.6 percent during 2001 to 2008 to 7.2 percent during 2008 to 2010."

Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, called the objective bold but said "concrete steps" and coordinated actions were being taken to see it realized.

"Our goal today is absolutely clear: to eliminate colorectal cancer as a major public health threat," Koh said Monday. "Unfortunately, in our country over 50,000 people die each year from colorectal cancer and we know so many of those deaths could be and should be prevented."

Utah results

The data showed that, in 2012, almost 67 percent of Utahns over 50 were screened, landing Utah at 22nd in the nation for screening rates. Robinson said a Utah Department of Health survey put that figure at 70 percent.

"We have fairly high rates in Utah, but that leaves 30 percent that haven't been screened," Robinson said. "We're trying to get word out that it's preventable. … If they're found and removed before they become cancerous, you're clear, it's treatable. It used to be you got cancer and you're done."

Samadder praised Utah's rates and said those hesitant to get screened should know there are a number of options, including some that are less invasive than a colonoscopy. That procedure, though, allows a doctor to use a camera to examine the entire bowel area.

"We're not only finding polyps, but we're able to remove them at the exact same time, so we can keep it from becoming colorectal cancer," Samadder said, before allaying any fears about the procedure. "Patients really don't have a problem with it. We use sedation to make them lightly sleep, and most patients say that it is the best nap they've ever had."

Siporin has chosen to handle his diagnosis with humor. He said he dressed up as "Chemo Cupid" for Valentine's Day and quips that those putting off a colonoscopy should consider the jokes they could crack during the experience.

"There's great lines," he said. "You can go in there and say to the doctor, 'So, that's how a Muppet feels.' There are funny things you can do but, for heaven's sake … one of the things that is most frustrating I know for both my wife and I is to see people who could take measures to not be in this situation and choose not to."

Dov Siporin's story

Siporin and his wife had a 3-year-old son and an 8-month-old daughter when he was diagnosed in 2008. He said he couldn't grasp the cancer diagnosis, so he fixated on the ostomy bag.

"I couldn't wrap my mind around cancer, it was too big. I couldn't wrap my mind around it," he said. "The bag was real and concrete, and that scared the hell out of me, to be real honest about it."

He said he cried and then seriously considered suicide, believing it would be easier for him and less of a strain for his family. But then he remembered friends in high school whose father took his life and the way they felt.

"I think that moment of decision right there was a really big one, because it really defined it for me that I'm going to fight for every second I have with (my family)," Siporin said. "It wasn't a question of how can I handle it then how am I going to handle it … I will do whatever it takes to be here for every second with them."

After multiple surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Siporin said his tumors have now spread to his liver, heart, lymph nodes and pancreas. He said he now knows the cancer will not be cured.

"Unfortunately, my tumors are just as stubborn as me," he said. "My daughter who was 8 months old, who I thought I would die before she knew me as anything other than a blob who brought food, she's 6 years old. She wrote me a note: 'Kansr is poopy.' I've seen my son go from a 3-year-old to a 9-year-old right now.

"Who knows how much time I have? I don't plan on anything usually more than a couple of weeks out, but I've got today with them. I'll get to go home and read Shel Silverstein to them. I get to hang out with them and that's cool."

Email: emorgan@deseretnews.com, Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam