Stella M. Chavez/KERA News

We went on a special voyage in Fort Worth yesterday – through a 20-foot long inflatable replica of a human colon. Here’s what that was like.

 

The KERA radio story.

 

In the 1966 movie Fantastic Voyage, a submarine crew is reduced to microscopic size and injected into the blood stream of an injured diplomat. The goal: to save his life.

Moviegoers were promised a stunning experience that would take them where no human or camera had ever been (cue dramatic music).

That was, of course, science fiction. The voyage at the JPS Center for Cancer Care on Wednesday had a different kind of mission.

Celeste Caliman, a nurse and clinical research coordinator for clinical trials at the center, led the way through a giant orange-reddish tunnel that was made out of a vinyl-coated nylon.

“As you walk through, you’ll see in the beginning some normal tissue, so you can just look at it and [see] what the normal colon is supposed to look like,” Caliman said.

The lining was smooth – the sign of a healthy colon. But a little farther in, the lining got darker and looked scarred – it’s an inflamed colon, or Chron’s disease, as the label explained. On the opposite side were blobs larger than the size of basketballs protruding from the inside.

“On the right side of the colon, there’s what a polyp would like and a polyp is essentially a precancerous cell,” Caliman said. “So if the doctor does a colonoscopy and they find a polyp, they take it out and they send it to pathology to be biopsied to see if it’s benign or malignant.”

As we kept walking, was saw a cluster of polyps. Not a good sign.

“That tells me that that cell has kind of gone out of control and became a malignant polyp as opposed to a benign polyp,” Caliman said.

Next, we saw a larger cluster, which represented colon cancer. And finally, we looked at what appeared to be intertwined tissue sticking out, or advanced colon cancer.

Colon cancer is not rare. About one in 20 Americans will be diagnosed with the disease during their lifetime. It’s also the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S.

Caliman said being pro-active is crucial.

“As the sign says, early detection is the best, is the key,” she said. “Because the sooner you catch it, the less invasive the procedure that needs to be done has to be done.”

The exhibit travels all over the country and was provided by the Colon Cancer Alliance in D.C. It’s on loan from Bayer HealthCare and will travel next to Austin for the Livestrong Challenge Oct. 18-20. And while this voyage was not so fantastic as that movie, just like a colonoscopy, it was worth doing.

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