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Walgreens promotes colon cancer education


DEERFIELD, Ill. —Walgreens is partnering with the Colon Cancer Alliance to educate consumers about colon cancer and encourage them to seek screening for the disease.

Timed to coincide with Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Walgreens’ initiative features in-store informational posters, brochures and information on prescription labels and in circulars. Pharmacists also are available to talk to consumers about colon cancer and the screening process.

Since Walgreens’ 6,200 stores attract about 5 million customers a day nationwide, this program is likely to have a big impact during its March through April run, said Nimesh Jhaveri, director of pharmacy services for Walgreens.

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. Every four minutes a person is diagnosed with it, meaning 154,000 Americans annually. And 55,000 people die of the disease every year—one person every nine minutes, 85 percent of them over age 50. In 2003, the United States spent more than $6.5 billion treating the disease.

These numbers have been fairly steady for several years now, according to Tim Turnham, chief executive officer of the Colon Cancer Alliance,“ but if everyone were screened, they would plummet,” he said. In fact, he added, 80 percent of cases would be caught in time if everyone were screened.

Screening can stop the spread of this disease and save lives, but many people are not screened—often due to perceived unpleasantness or simply embarrassment.

“It’s one of those diseases that you tend to forget about because it’s not sexy to talk about it,” Jhaveri said. “Half the battle is just being comfortable to have these types of discussions. Just the notion of a colonoscopy makes people very uncomfortable. But it’s a very simple procedure now, and people don’t realize that.”

“The program with Walgreens means we’re getting this not-talked-about disease out there,” Turnham said. “Walgreens is a trusted name, so there’s heft behind them endorsing this.”

Walgreens is confident that it can make a difference, and expects that the in-store materials will prompt customers to talk to the pharmacists. “It’s about understanding that the risk is there,” Jhaveri said.

“There is no downside to doing this,” he explained. “Pharmacists get overloaded with mundane tasks. But their knowledge is extremely high, and this helps engage them with the consumer.”

The partnership, which is supported by Salix Pharmaceuticals, also includes a toll-free hotline, manned by CCA experts, and a Web site (, which offers privacy to customers who prefer not to discuss the issue in stores.

The program ran for the first time last year as a test. Walgreens learned that pharmacists wanted more materials and wanted information ahead of time, so they could prepare to advise consumers, Jhaveri said.

Receiving the information in advance also encourages pharmacists to update their knowledge of this disease. It is part of their ongoing continuing education, and the information is available for them online and in stores, both electronically and in paper version.

This year’s program is bigger and more comprehensive, Turnham explained. There’s more and bigger signage, more brochures, information in Spanish and a bigger push to get the word out to the media.

Jhaveri said he expects the program to reach more consumers this year because of the extra time allotted to the stores and because pharmacists are more aware. He added that he hopes to continue it in future years. “This will be part of our repertoire of raising awareness,” he said.

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