Backstreet Boy Talks Tough About Colon Cancer Awareness

Backstreet Boys star Kevin Scott Richardson is a spokesperson for colon cancer awareness. Kevin lost his father to this cancer in 1991 when he was 19 years old. Read on for what he had to say about it at

While the Backstreet Boys are frequent residents of Top 40 radio, band member Kevin Richardson will be singing a new tune on television. The singer is urging fans to do what he never had a chance to save a parent from colorectal cancer (CRC).
“I was 19 when my father passed away,” says Richardson, 32. “Colorectal cancer was something that I never even thought about. It was something that I thought happened to other people. But if I knew then what I know now about the disease, my father might still be here if he had gotten screened regularly.” Not getting screened for CRC is far too commonplace in America. Baby boomers older than 50, numbering in the millions, should have CRC screening, medical experts say, because the simple exam can be life saving. Yet the boomers either never hear the message or simply dismiss the recommendations. Data from the Harvard Center for Cancer Prevention estimates that about 30,000 lives a year could be saved if regular screening and a healthy lifestyle are combined.”My father did not know the importance of talking about the disease or getting screened for it,” Richardson notes. “Many people, especially those in our parents’ generation, are too embarrassed to discuss colon cancer, because it involves parts of the body that are uncomfortable to talk about.”
As a result, denial, apathy and/or lack of awareness often visit tragedy on families like that which Richardson endured in 1991. “When they found my father’s cancer, it was at a very late stage,” Richardson says. “They removed a tumor about the size of a grapefruit and gave him radiation and chemotherapy. But it was already moving to other parts of his body. Twelve months after his diagnosis, he was gone.”

CRC basics

According to the American Cancer Society, about 147,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancers this year. An estimated 57,000 will die from the disease. These figures make CRC ; which includes cancers of the colon, rectum, appendix, and anus ; the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in the USA and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. Richardson says the news doesn’t have to be so dire. “If you have a family history, you’re over 50, or you have any symptoms, you need to get a colonoscopy as soon as possible.”
Using a flexible lighted tube equipped with a camera, the colonoscopy exam can detect and remove polyps long before they can develop into cancers or even produce symptoms. According to the Colon Cancer Alliance, these symptoms can include:
– Change in bowel habits
– Diarrhea or constipation
– Blood in the stool or narrower than normal stools
– Unexplained weight loss
– Unexplained anemia or constant tiredness
– Abdominal discomfort: gas, bloating, fullness or cramps
While colonoscopy screening may sound scary, it is usually administered under sedation and painless. Early detection equals life.More than 90% of those diagnosed when the cancer is confined to the colon or rectal area survive more than five years, the CCA says. The key is getting those most at risk to actually get screened.
To help raise awareness, Richardson and the CCA have joined forces in a national awareness campaign funded by a grant from Genentech. The campaign is called “It’s Time to Talk About CRC.”
While Richardson has been compensated for his time to star in the public service announcements produced by CCA, the singer says he would have done them for free. “I’m hoping that this program can help prevent others from going through what my family and I went through,” he states.
What makes the campaign unique is that Richardson’s PSAs do not target the age-groups over 50 that are most at-risk. Instead, the TV spots appeal to the people most likely to get through to them; their children.”The younger generation is more aware now,” Richardson says, “and I think our parents would listen more to us if they knew their child had concerns.” The first public service announcements featuring Richardson air during March, which is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Two more versions with special messages for Mother’s Day and Father’s Day will air as those dates approach. But these are not your parents’ PSAs.
“They target young people, under 40, for what is essentially an older people’s affliction,” notes Andy Praski, the director. “This generation doesn’t want sugarcoating, just the message. There’s no nonsense here, just the facts and what you can do to potentially save their lives.” As such the PSAs are edgy, fast, and to the point. “We definitely get in their face and tell them that talking about colon cancer can save lives,” says Richardson, who is recording a new CD with the Backstreet Boys.
“People our age are more willing to seek out their own medical information and seek out their own healthcare choices,” adds Kevin Lewis, chairman of the board of the Colon Cancer Alliance. “Our hope is people our age can help in reaching older generations.”
Not ‘larger than life’
Richardson and Lewis point out that once aware people can reduce their risk of CRC by employing the following strategies:
– Screening after age 50 and earlier if there’s a family history of CRC
– Staying active and fit
– Eating nutritious foods, including lots of vegetables and fruits
– Avoiding large amounts of animal fats
– Quitting smoking
The PSAs contain another sharp hook for the children of at-risk adults ; self-interest.
Although the majority of colorectal cancers strike men and women older than 50, certain families, like Lewis’, have a gene mutation that greatly increases the chance of their developing colorectal, ovarian, and uterine cancers. “I don’t really have a choice about screening,” Lewis explains. “My great-grandmother died of uterine cancer at 40. My grandmother survived colon cancer, uterine cancer and ovarian cancer before dying of colorectal cancer at age 80. My father has survived two bouts with colon cancer, and my brother’s colonoscopy found a small polyp that was removed.”
While only 39, Lewis has had six colonoscopies and two polyps removed already. Richardson adds that his father was only 49 when he died.
“After my dad died, my brother got checked and had a polyp removed,” Richardson says. “So now I know that I am even more at risk and will need earlier screening.” Lewis says it’s important that doctors and patients recognize that there are ‘random’ cases of colorectal cancers in young people in their 20s and 30s. “If I waited for screenings until I was 50, I’d be dead,” Lewis states. Richardson says the most important way to stay healthy is to talk openly about CRC.
“You have to ask your parents if your family has a history of colorectal cancers and whether they have been screened,” Richardson urges. “If it has been in your family, you’re more at risk at a younger age. The bottom line is; if you catch it early, you can win the battle. It may be a little embarrassing to talk about and uncomfortable to get screened, but it’s a lot better than losing your life.”

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