March is National Colorectal Cancer Prevention month so I thought I’d give my readers some tips about how to prevent colon cancer. More than 90% of people diagnosed with colon cancer are over the age of 50 – the age recommended for initial screening. If you’re over age 50, you’ll want to read about what’s new in colon cancer research as well as what you can do to prevent getting it.
Colon Cancer Awareness
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that 140,000 people every year are diagnosed with colon cancer and more than 50,000 people die from it. Yet, this does not have to be the case. The good news is that colon cancer can be cured if found early and underscores the importance of screening.
Colon cancer affects men and women equally and your risk for getting it increases with age. It is thought associated with poor diet – low nutrient, high dietary toxin – intake. It can be hereditary as well – it tends to repeat throughout family generations. It also has a higher risk of occurrence with people who have inflammatory bowel conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, or Crohn’s disease.
The symptoms of colon cancer are usually few, if any, but may include: change in bowel habits (going too much, not enough), persistent stomach pain, cramps, blood in stool, or unexplained weight loss and chronic fatigue. Of course, having these symptoms does not necessarily mean colon cancer; they can also accompany other issues. Yet, if you have these symptoms that continue, do see your doctor for further investigation.
Health researchers recommend colon screening soon after the age of 50. This can consist of:
- HS-FOBT – high sensitivity fecal occult blood test. This is a chemically pre-treated card that a minute amount of your stool is smeared on. If there is blood present in the stool, the chemical reaction indicates it. Blood in stool may be a warning sign of colon cancer, but it may also just indicate hemorrhoids.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy – examination of just the sigmoid portion of the colon which is recommended every 5 years.
- Colonoscopy – examination of the entire colon which is recommended every 10 years.
- Virtual colonoscopy – no instruments are inserted into the sigmoid or colon. You still have to undergo the same preparation as regular methods though. The bowel is looked at through a type of x-ray that shows the internal bowel on a special monitor. If any abnormalities are found, you will still need to undergo regular screening to address these.
Having a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy is not painful. Yet, the preparation for them can be a little uncomfortable in that it causes you to empty your bowel frequently. Recently, some commercial preparations have been found to have unhealthy side effects. These have been replaced by milder regimens that clean the bowel sufficiently without the side effects. You may experience some skin irritation from going so often, however.
How To Prevent Colon Cancer
I always tell my patients that preventing disease is much easier than treating it. Colon cancer is usually associated with poor diets such as high animal fats, low fiber, not enough antioxidants, high alcohol and other dietary toxins – like nitrite food preservatives – intake.
Keeping the colon healthy and cancer-free has a lot to do with something called ‘transit time’. This is the amount of time it takes for digestion to take place and waste to leave your body through bowel movements. If your transit time is slow, due to low fiber, lack of adequate water intake, and you tend to be constipated often, toxins can adhere to your bowel easily.
Recent research has shown that high fiber foods like bran, brown rice, fruits and vegetables, increase transit time to get rid of waste toxins much faster. It is recommended that you eat at least 25 grams of fiber a day. One bowl of high fiber bran cereal has about 14 grams of fiber in it – eating at least 1 serving a day, in addition to other fiber-nutrient dense foods, will help lower your risk of colon cancer. According to a Loma Linda University study, people who ate brown rice (a high fiber grain) at least once a week reduced their risk of colon cancer by 40%.
Other research out of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has shown that diets high in starchy carbohydrates and refined sugars – i.e. cakes, pastries, cookies, other dessert foods – up the risk for colon cancer. These foods raise blood sugar and insulin levels which create inflammation throughout the entire body. Similarly, people who are obese and/or have diabetes, are at higher risk for developing colon cancer.
Vitamins A and E (both gamma and delta tocopherols) have also been found in research to protect the bowel against cancer, as well as Omega-3 fatty acids. Foods rich in these nutrients include yellow/orange vegetables and fatty fish like salmon and mackerel. Try to have several servings per week.
Colon cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in the United States. With efforts aimed at better preventative nutrition, as well as screening, about 60% of these deaths could be avoided.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Natural Health News
Vitamin E in diet protects against many cancers, study says, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120423132015.htm
Foods That Prevent Colon Cancer, http://news.menshealth.com/foods-that-fight-cancer/2011/08/15/
CDC – March is National Colorectal Cancer Month, http://www.cdc.gov/features/colorectalawareness/
Starchy, high carbohydrate, sugar foods associated with colon cancer, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/11/121107161551.htm