Donald Payne, NJ Congressman, Dies of Colon Cancer

The U.S. Congress and the people of New Jersey have suffered a great loss with the passing of Representative Donald Payne. He died today of colorectal cancer (CRC) at age 77. Congressman Payne was a champion of education and a tireless advocate for the underserved both in America and in Africa: As a former teacher, I think he would want us to learn from his death.

As we celebrate National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month this March, we must keep in mind the devastating toll that this disease continues to take in our country and abroad. After lung cancer, CRC is the next most common lethal cancer in the U.S. It’s diagnosed in almost 150,000 Americans each year and roughly 50,000 die of the disease annually. Like Mr. Payne, most patients are diagnosed in their 60s and 70s, although plenty of younger people are diagnosed as well. In that regard, colonoscopy (direct visualization of the lining of the colon, usually by a gastreoenterologist or surgeon) is the standard screening test recommended for most patients (those without a strong family history, etc) beginning at age 50. Most people who have an initial negative screening colonoscopy will not need a repeat test for a decade.

As I discuss in When Cancer Hits Home, there’s no 100% guaranteed way to prevent all cancers. Everyone who has a colon is at risk for developing CRC. Nevertheless, there are ways to stack the deck against a future cancer diagnosis. There is strong evidence in the medical literature that people who eat less (or no) red meat and more fiber have a significantly lower risk of CRC than the rest of the population. The current recommendation for fruit and vegetable consumption from the American Cancer Society is 2.5 cups per day. “An apple a day” may keep the cancer doctor away! These simple dietary changes can dramatically decrease a person’s risk of CRC. One way to honor the life and work of Congressman Payne is to learn from his death.

– Patrick Maguire MD



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