Sharon Osbourne Uses Her Cancer Experience to Help Others

Osbourne Clan Matriarch Established a Program to Help Other Colon Cancer Patients

Sharon Osbourne has never been one to shy away from "telling things as they are." So it wasn’t that surprising when, in 2002, the matriarch of the Osbourne family (wife and manager of singer Ozzy Osbourne,) decided to document her battle with colon cancer on their MTV reality show The Osbournes.

Sharon was diagnosed when her husband, an "admitted hypochondriac," insisted she go in for her first check up in 3 years. Sharon, then 50 years old, was diagnosed with colon cancer, and had a foot-long section of her colon removed. Because the cancer had already spread to a lymph node, Sharon’s case was diagnosed as stage III. Following surgery, she underwent chemotherapy.

Osbourne’s surgeon, Dr. Edward Philips, from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles says people should not be afraid to get screened for colon cancer:

"This is a very treatable cancer. It is not a cancer you need to fear. It can be treated successfully with minimally invasive surgery and you don't have to wear a colostomy bag – that is a very, very rare occurrence and more likely to occur when the cancer is not detected early."

Inspired by the wonderful medical care she received at Cedars-Sinai, Sharon and Dr. Philips began the Sharon Osbourne Colon Cancer Program. According to its website, the program "works to improve the lives of patients and their loved ones by providing at-home help, childcare, transportation, access to support groups and patient care services offered within Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. The program also underwrites colon cancer education for healthcare providers."

Although Sharon’s colon cancer has not returned, in 2012 she found out that she carried the breast cancer gene BRCA1 and underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy.

What Does The Colon Do?

The colon is part of the digestive system. It forms a long, muscular tube called the large intestine (also called the large bowel). The colon is the first four to five feet of the large intestine, with the rectum at the last several inches.

During digestion, food moves through the stomach and small intestine into the colon. The colon absorbs water and nutrients from the food and stores waste matter (stool). Stool moves from the colon into the rectum before it leaves the body.

What Is Colon Cancer?

Colorectal cancer (CRC) is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. Most CRCs are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids). CRC often begins as a growth called a polyp, which may form on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. Some polyps become cancer over time. Finding and removing polyps can prevent CRC.

CRC is the fourth most common type of cancer in men and women in the United States, according to the National Cancer Institute. Deaths from colorectal cancer have decreased with the use of colonoscopies and fecal occult blood tests, which check for blood in the stool.  "Occult" refers to the fact that the blood is not visually obvious but can be detected by laboratory analysis.

Risk factors for colon cancer include:

  • Over 50 years of age
  • African-American or eastern European descent
  • A diet that is high in red or processed meat; high in fat; or low in fiber
  • Cancer elsewhere in the body
  • Presence of polyps in the colon or rectum
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • Family history of colon cancer
  • Personal history of breast cancer
  • Certain genetic syndromes:
    • Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), sometimes called Lynch syndrome.
    • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
  • Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol

Signs of colon cancer include:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • Frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Feeling very tired
  • Vomiting

After colon cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the colon or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the colon or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.

The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:

  • The stage of the cancer (whether the cancer is in the inner lining of the colon only or has spread through the colon wall, or has spread to lymph nodes or other places in the body)
  • Whether the cancer has blocked or made a hole in the colon
  • Whether there are any cancer cells left after surgery
  • Whether the cancer has recurred
  • The patient’s general health

"Targeted" Treatments for Advanced CRC

Patients whose tumors have spread beyond the colon are said to have metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) and are usually treated with "biologic" drugs in addition to traditional chemotherapies.

One of these drugs is bevacizumab (Avastin) that "starves" tumors of their blood supply.

Another drug, cetuximab (Erbitux) attacks tumor cells directly but will not work in patients who have mutations in a cancer gene called RAS.  About 30-50 percent of CRC patients have RAS mutations that need to be diagnosed by special laboratory tests to determine if an individual patient is likely to be helped by cetuximab. This testing is done by a pathologist using samples of a patient’s tumor tissue.

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