Snipping away at colon cancer

Jada Williamson (foreground, from left), Angela Gibbs (in chair), Miguel Mayfield, Shaniqua Footman, Shelia Pierce, Aiasha Fleurantin (partially visible), Nykeshia Footman and Torri Hammond gathered in Mayfield's Fulfillment Salon Day Spa in North Charles

A woman shares more with her hairstylist than the natural color of her hair. Health and family are frequent topics of conversation in salons.

That's why black beauty salons and barbershops in South Carolina may become the front line for health education about screening for colon cancer, a disease that disproportionately affects blacks.

"Barbershops and salons are the cornerstone of our community," said Tia Brewer-Footman, co-owner of FB Enterprises, a member of the alliance spearheading the awareness effort. "Women and men speak freely, beyond the topic of hairstyles. We talk about our lives and often confide about our health or the health of our loved ones."

The S.C. Cancer Alliance, the American Cancer Society, the University of South Carolina Center for Colon Cancer Research, S.C. Gastroenterology Association and FB Enterprises, publisher of the black women's beauty magazine hair etc., launched the statewide program called Shop Talk: Keep it Movin'.

In about six months, stylists will begin training to learn how to educate clients about colon cancer screening.

Dr. Frank Berger, director of the USC research center, said that every day six families in South Carolina learn a loved one is affected, and two people die.

That adds up to about 2,230 people in the state who will be diagnosed with colon cancer, according to an estimate from the American Cancer Society. And nearly 800 people will die from the disease.

Black people are more likely to die of colon cancer than any other group, according to Centers for Disease Control

and Prevention.

No one is sure why the rates are disproportionate said Virginie Daguise,

an epidemiologist with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Berger said a complex set of factors may be to blame. Awareness, education, economics and genetics are a few of the variables at work, he said.

When colon cancer is detected early and treated, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent, according to the CDC. If everyone age 50 or older was regularly screened, the center estimates that as many as 60 percent of deaths from colon cancer could be prevented.

"You are the centerpiece for disseminating health information," Brewer-Footman told the stylists gathered at Fulfillment Salon Day Spa on Ashley Phosphate Road in North Charleston to learn about the program.

Kim Jackson, a stylist at Divine Beauty Hair Salon, lost her grandmother in 1989 to colon cancer. She said she looks forward to sharing what she's learned with clients.

"Lots of people don't get to their doctors as often as they should, but they'll take care of their hair," Jackson said.

Getting screened

People should begin colon cancer screening at age 50, unless there is a high risk at a younger age. There are four main types of screenings:

-- Fecal occult blood test, which checks for hidden blood in three consecutive stool samples, should be administered every year.

-- Flexible sigmoidoscopy, where physicians use a flexible, lighted tube (sigmoidoscope) to inspect visually the interior walls of the rectum and part of the colon, should be administered every five years.

-- Double-contrast barium enema, a test that uses a series of X-rays of the colon and rectum (taken after the patient is given an enema containing barium dye followed by an injection of air in the lower bowel), should be administered every five years.

-- Colonoscopy, where physicians use a flexible, lighted tube (colonoscope) to inspect visually the interior walls of the rectum and the entire colon, should be administered every 10 years.