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colon polyp microscope image
A microscopic image of a colon polyp taken at the UH Cancer Center.

Colorectal cancer, a cancer of the colon or rectum, is the third most frequently diagnosed cancer in the state of Hawaiʻi, according to the University of Hawaiʻi Cancer Center’s Hawaiʻi Tumor Registry. Approximately 717 new cases are diagnosed each year in the islands. Researchers at the UH Cancer Center have undertaken a number of initiatives that seek to decrease these alarming rates of colorectal cancer incidence and mortality. One of these initiatives is the UH Cancer Center’s participation in an international study on colon cancer.

In 1997, the National Cancer Institute established the Colon Cancer Family Registry (CCFR) and is composed of six institutes throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia. The registry follows those diagnosed with colorectal cancer and their affected and unaffected family members to learn more about the impact of genetics and lifestyle factors on colorectal cancer risk.

Hawaiʻi’s colorectal cancer cohort

exterior shot of cancer center
UH Cancer Center

The CCFR site in Hawaiʻi, located at the UH Cancer Center, is also known as the Hawaiʻi Colorectal Cancer Family Registry Cohort (HCCFRC). HCCFRC researchers and coordinators have recruited more than 600 families in Hawaiʻi for a total of 2,266 participants, who donate blood and tumor samples which are tested for genetic variants. These samples help to better predict participants’ risk for cancers of the colon and rectum, and may be used to find the best ways to prevent them.

“The UH Cancer Center’s participation in this international colorectal cancer study is significant because Hawaiʻi’s population is unlike any other,” said Randall Holcombe, UH Cancer Center director. “Data from the HCCFRC has the ability to help families—not only within our own community, but throughout the rest of the world as well.”

Due to Hawaiʻi’s unique racial and ethnic population, information from the HCCFRC is especially important in guiding research on colorectal cancer risk, treatment and prevention for racial and ethnic minorities. Since it was established in 1997, the CCFR site in Hawaiʻi has sought to identify those at high risk of colorectal cancer and to improve health outcomes.

Recommended screenings

Although the study is not enrolling new participants at this time, there are a number of measures that you can take to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer. Since the majority of new colorectal cancer cases occur in people who are 50 years of age and older, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that those between the ages of 50 and 65 get regular screenings.

Individuals with an increased risk for colorectal cancer are advised to talk to their doctor about when to begin screening, which test is right for them, and how often they should get tested. Screenings are the key to cancer prevention and early detection. Those with a strong family history of cancer may also ask their physician if genetic counseling is advisable.

Other studies on colorectal cancer

This work is an example of UH Mānoa’s goal of Excellence in Research: Advancing the Research and Creative Work Enterprise (PDF), one of four goals identified in the 2015–25 Strategic Plan (PDF), updated in December 2020.

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