February 22, 2006 | By: Laura Skillman

It’s not every day you get to crawl through an internal organ, but students from the west Kentucky area got an up-close look at a colon last week. The traveling display is not just for students, it aims to educate the young and not-so-young about colorectal cancer.

The Colossal Colon® is a 40-foot-long, 4-foot-tall, crawl-through replica of the human colon designed to educate the public about colorectal cancer.  It includes examples of healthy colon tissue, several noncancerous diseases of the colon, polyps, and various stages of colorectal cancer. For the less agile, there are windows along the display to view the inner workings as well. 

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. Almost 150,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer this year, and more than 55,000 of them will die. Between 1998 and 2002, 4,651 Kentuckians died of colorectal cancer, according to the Kentucky Cancer Registry.

But colorectal cancer is also one of the most preventable cancers – more than 90 percent of all cases could be prevented through proper screening methods.

The exhibit was at Kentucky Oaks Mall for five days, thanks to the Purchase Regional Cancer Partnership. University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service was one of the partners, as were area hospitals, the Kentucky Cancer Program, area health departments and the Purchase Area Agency on Aging.

“We became aware of a grant opportunity through the Kentucky Cancer Consortium and we began looking for a way to impact colorectal cancer in western Kentucky,” said Sara Bogle, Fulton County Extension agent for family and consumer science. “We have worked on this for more than a year. We chose to use the Colossal Colon® because of the visibility and we wanted it to be a regional event.”

Melody Nall, Purchase District cancer control specialist of the Kentucky Cancer Program, said this is one of the first collaborative efforts the program has done with regional cancer partnerships, and she was pleased with the turnout.

“We’ve invited schools for tours, and we’ve been full for two days,” Nall said. “They’ve bused their students in and let them take a tour of the Colossal Colon® as well as get the educational materials we’ve combined with the exhibit.”

The response from the public has been positive as well, she said.

“The response from the 20-somethings has really surprised me because they were very interested and serious about finding out what this was about,” Nall said.

Many visitors are surprised by the statistics surrounding colorectal cancer and that Kentucky ranks high in incidences of the disease, she said.

“We have a long way to go in terms of healthy behaviors and we are trying to emphasize that as well,” Nall said. “This cancer can be prevented. We know that we should start our screenings through annual fecal occult blood tests at age 40 and at age 50 have a colonoscopy. If a polyp is found they can remove it, and removing that polyp prevents cancer.”

Having the students attend increases their knowledge of the disease and hopefully they will take the message home to their parents and grandparents, Bogle said.

“This is much more effective than simply seeing a picture of the disease,” she said.

Cooperative Extension Service agents and Extension volunteers worked the exhibit one of the days. Among the groups visiting the exhibit that day was the gifted and talented science class from Heath Elementary School. The students expressed surprise at the high incidence of colon cancer.

“I knew that lung cancer was No. 1, but colon cancer was a big surprise,” said one of the students. Another student noted she learned that even if you “feel great” it is important to have a colonoscopy.

Chris Slentz, a Duke University researcher in exercise physiology, was driving through the area and stopped to stretch at the mall Friday when he visited the exhibit.

“I thought it was pretty good – very interesting and helpful,” he said. “I turned 50 in January and I’ve been trying to figure out if there was a way to postpone (the colonoscopy), but it sounds like I ought to have one. I also learned more about hemorrhoids and diverticulosis, which I had heard about, but even as a scientist I don’t read very much in that area, so it was educational for me.”

The Colossal Colon® is the creation of New York resident Molly McMaster, a colon cancer survivor who was diagnosed on her 23rd birthday. The Colossal Colon® is a project of The Colon Club and is dedicated to the memory of Molly’s friend, Amanda Sherwood Roberts of Arkansas, who lost her battle with colon cancer at age 27. It was unveiled in 2002 and has traveled to more than 60 cities around the United States. This was its first visit to Kentucky.


Sara Bogle, (270) 236-2351, Melody Nall, (270) 442-1310