Cancer Insights: A message from 'Simpsons' co-creator Sam Simon

March 15, 2015 | by Cary Presant

Sam Simon Sam Simon, co-creator of "The Simpsons, died of colon cancer during Colon Cancer Awareness Month. In his death, there is a lesson for us all. Credit: Getty Images

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. How sad, yet how serendipitous, that the co-creator of “The Simpsons” Sam Simon passed away in March after a four-year battle against colon cancer. What message can we all learn from his illness that can help us prevent and overcome colon cancer in our own lives?

Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers in men and women. One out of every 20 people will get colon cancer. And it is the third-leading cause of cancer death in the country, with nearly 50,000 deaths every year from this disease.

Simon was not alone in fighting this battle. Other famous people who have had this cancer are Audrey Hepburn, President Ronald Reagan, Eartha Kitt, Vince Lombardy and Charles Schulz.

From each of these people comes the same message: This illness can be prevented and the cure rate can be high.

Here are five tips to help prevent and screen for this illness, tips that could save your life:{C}

1) Reduce your risk of colon cancer by eating a better diet (less red meat, and five helpings of fruits or veggies per day), exercising, limiting alcohol to one or two drinks per day, keeping your weight normal, stopping smoking and taking a baby aspirin daily (if your doctor says it is OK).

2) If you have a family history of colon cancer, or of cancers of the uterus, stomach, pancreas, bladder or esophagus, discuss this with your physician and see if a gene test for Lynch syndrome would be appropriate. For more information on how to ask your doctor about this, see my book “Surviving American Medicine.”

3) Reduce your risk of colon cancer by getting a colonoscopy to remove polyps (which can develop into colon cancer if not taken out). Start this at age 50.

4) Detect colon cancer at a more curable stage by getting a colonoscopy, or checking for blood in the stool using a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT), or checking for cancer DNA in the stool (via a more expensive but more sensitive test – “Cologuard” – just approved by the Food and Drug Administration). Catching this cancer earlier means less extensive surgery, less likelihood of needing a colostomy and better chance of surviving.

5) If you have any intestinal symptoms (blood in the stool, abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, indigestion, cramps), see your doctor and ask if this might be early colon cancer. This could save your life, so don’t disregard it.

As Homer Simpson said, “Just because I don’t care doesn’t mean I don’t understand.”

Simon’s lesson for us is to understand colon cancer, and also to care about getting a better lifestyle, getting these tests and taking the right steps – now.

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Learn more about colorectal cancer, and its research and treatment, at City of Hope.

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). You may also request a new patient appointment online. City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

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