Repeat after me…rectal. R-E-C-T-A-L.

Ever since I started working for the Colorectal Cancer Coalition, it has been interesting to watch people react to the word, “rectal.” Yes, the stuff that comes out of that part of the body isn’t pleasant dinner conversation. But the word “rectal” itself is not evil. It’s not dirty. It’s just anatomy.

I give my employer name for whatever reason, they say, “can you spell that?” and I laugh internally as they go out of their way not to say the word “rectal” under any circumstances. “Colo-what?” “Colorectal” “C-o-l-o-r-e-c-t-a-l…colo-rectal…it’s okay, you probably have one too.”

I’m used to it from the general public. There was a time that “breast” was a dirty word too. Then women started getting cancer in that body part and feeding their babies in public with that body part and gradually over time, the word lost its whispers.

At C3, we are absolutely careful to include rectal cancer in our mission and attention. Rectal cancer is very real, and from what I understand, can even be more deadly than colon cancer as the surgery is more difficult. We always refer to it as “colorectal cancer” or “cancer of the colon and rectum.”

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal Cancer. It’s how George W proclaimed it in 2003:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim March 2003 as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. I call upon all Americans to reaffirm our Nation’s continuing commitment to controlling and curing colorectal cancer.

So if W isn’t afraid of speaking the word “rectal” out loud, what’s the problem with the American Cancer Society?

When talking about the disease to the lay public, they only use the term “colon cancer.” Look at their site. The final straw for me was an email I received from being on an ACS mailing list that ended with:

P.S. March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women. But there’s good news: Colon cancer is preventable, treatable, and beatable. Click here to learn more about colon cancer, including how to reduce your risk for the disease.

No! March is National Colorectal Awareness Month. I don’t care if you’re the American Cancer Society, you don’t get to dismiss the 40,740 people (citing ACS’s own statistics) who will be diagnosed with rectal cancer this year. Ironically, in that very statistic document, beginning on page 12, they talk specifically about Colon and Rectum cancer and use the word “colorectal” throughout the section. They just won’t call it “colorectal” on any document the general non-patient public will likely read (as opposed to documents aimed at patients which use colorectal and rectum where appropriate). In other words, it’s a marketing decision. Somehow, I guess ACS thinks people will be more likely to get screened if they don’t think the word is “icky”? I don’t know. Sorry, rectums are icky. Get over it. Cancer is ickier.

Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing people who work for ACS. We have some great relationships with ACS employees all over the country and it’s a fantastic organization. But I have heard from ACS employees a few times that it’s an intentional decision not to say “colorectal” because focus groups say people have a negative reaction to the word. Say what?!?! That is precisely the reason to use the word. People have to be able to talk about what they see going on in the toilet bowl, or they will ignore the symptoms and they will die.

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