Thursday, October 15 is the deadline for Mississippians to pre-order a new specialty car tag that reads, “Prevent Colon Cancer…Get Screened!” In order for these license plates to end up on the bumpers of vehicles, a minimum of 300 at $31 each must be pre-ordered.
“All money from the car tag sales goes back to UMMC’s (University of Mississippi Medical Center) special fund to communicate and educate the importance of screening and the prevention of colon cancer,” explained Samuel Pace, MD. “It helps in two ways—people see it and say, ‘you know, I should get screened,’ and then the money goes back to help us spread the message.”
This special fund is referred to as 70×2020– an effort to ensure that at least 70% of Mississippians are up-to-date with recommended colorectal cancer screening by the year 2020. The Colorectal Cancer Screening Initiative that began at a small round table meeting at UMMC in April 2014, is now supported by a growing partnership of more than 30 organizations and individual champions. It’s a cause that hits close to home for Dr. Pace. Not only because he’s a gastroenterologist, but also because he’s beaten colon cancer not once, but twice, and attributes screenings to saving his life.
“On my very first day of chemotherapy, I ended up talking to one of my former patients that I had diagnosed with cancer 20 years ago,” Dr. Pace said. “It gave me a little extra kick to my step that day because he had lived 20 years because he had a colonoscopy, and I knew how important those 20 years had been to him. I thought to myself, my work is not done.”
After attending a seminar on colon cancer led by Dr. Roy Duhe’, UMMC Professor and Director of Cancer Education, Dr. Duhe’ talked to Dr. Pace about taking on the role of physician champion to increase screening rates for colon cancer in the state of Mississippi. Now Dr. Pace’s focus has changed from hands-on patient care to prevention.
“I took an oath when I became a physician, and even though I got colon cancer, I’m still honoring that oath. After I was first diagnosed, my son shared a motto with me. It says, ‘You can’t control the wind, but you can adjust your sails.’”
Inspired by the redesign of the breast cancer awareness car tag by a fellow church member and graphic designer, Leslie Geoghegan, Dr. Pace approached her about designing a colon cancer awareness tag.
“Within a couple of hours, she sent me a few options and we decided on this design. Then, we presented the mock up car tag at the state-wide kick off for the 70×2020 campaign. My wife’s sister, [Representative] Margaret Ellis Rodgers, [R-District 14] introduced the bill, and the governor signed it. Now we’re working hard to get 300 presales,” said Dr. Pace.
Mississippi currently has the highest colorectal cancer death rate in the nation. Dr. Pace attributes that to the paucity of gastroenterologists in regions such as the Delta, lack of education, and the fact that most people are simply not comfortable discussing that part of their anatomy.
“The 70×2020 partners are trying to overcome these obstacles, and we believe that any validated screen is better than no screen. In geographic areas or in populations where access to colonoscopies may be limited, 70×2020 partners are promoting the use of less expensive, high-quality screening tests, such as FOBT [fecal occult blood test],” said Dr. Pace, adding that if all eligible people get screened, colon cancer deaths can be reduced by 90%.
“I got to thinking about it…if I hadn’t gotten the screening, I wouldn’t have met four of my grandchildren. I wouldn’t have seen Mississippi State be number one in the nation!” said Dr. Pace.
A recent report from the American Cancer Society shows that colon cancer in older adults has decreased by 30% in the last decade. Despite that encouraging statistic, colorectal cancer is still predicted to be the third most common and third most deadly cancer in the U.S. All men and women 50 and older should be screened, and those who have a family history of colorectal cancer should begin screening earlier.
To order a colon cancer awareness tag, visit
For an appointment with one of Dr. Pace’s associates at Digestive Health Specialists, call 662-324-7484.