Stolen-colon storm could boost cancer screening

University of Kansas Cancer Center, Kansas City, Kansas, USA.

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Colon Cancer Coalition, Edina, Minnesota, USA.

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Fight Colorectal Cancer, Springfield, Missouri, USA.

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There were unforeseen benefits when a giant inflatable replica of a human colon was stolen last October from the University of Kansas Cancer Center in Kansas City. The model was intended as an interactive educational tool to increase the public’s cancer awareness, so the purpose of the prank is unclear. However, the story swept the globe on social media: the #stolencolon hashtag was shared more than 6,500 times, resulting in some 36 million impressions. The theft prompted 962 online reports, potentially reaching 955,302,697 people.

This extensive — albeit light-hearted — coverage inadvertently amplifed the message about the importance of screening for and preventing colorectal cancer. These efforts have contributed to the steady decline in new cases and mortality in the United States since the mid-1980s.

We hope that this unexpected publicity will help to reduce the unscreened population — currently 23 million in the United States (see — and so save many more lives.

Nature 565, 161 (2019)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-019-00038-8

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