How to prevent colon cancer
The American Cancer Society recommends regular colon cancer screenings for patients 50 and older.
So if you’re over the age of 50 and you’ve never had one, what’s stopping you?
The screening is important for two reasons:
One: Colon cancer is one of the leading forms of cancer along with breast cancer and lung cancer. But it’s one of the most preventable forms of cancer because modern technology has given doctors the tools to spot colon cancer in its earliest stages while it’s still treatable and curable.
Two: There’s really no way a doctor could know whether you’re at risk for colon cancer by assessing your outward physical characteristics. People who are overweight and eat a bad diet might have excellent colon health, while a health nut on a vegan diet could be harboring cancerous polyps. Genetics seem to have as much to do with the potential for cancer as other factors, experts say.
But many people — especially older Americans — are reluctant to undergo a colonoscopy if they feel like they’re in good health.
The biggest obstacle to someone having a colonoscopy is fear of the procedure itself or fear of the findings. Embarrassment also plays a role.
A colonoscopy consists of having a thin flexible tube with a tiny high-definition camera on the end inserted into the large intestine through the rectum. This piece of equipment is called an endoscope and it allows for a visual examination of the entire length of the large intestine.
Patients are sedated to minimize discomfort. Before the procedure patients will undergo a “bowel prep.” Patients will ingest fluids that will cause bowel movements until the large intestine has been emptied.
Gastroenterologists tell their patients that the short-term discomfort of not eating and the process of bowel cleansing are minor compared to the importance of information gained and the potential to prevent colon cancer. Once you start eating normally again after the procedure your bowels quickly return to normal.
After the procedure, which is usually performed on an out-patient basis in an endoscopy center, a gastroenterologist will share the preliminary findings. Biopsies may have been taken during the colonoscopy and results will take several days to be processed.
During the colonoscopy, the doctor is looking for polyps. A polyp is a growth or extra tissue shaped like a mushroom or dome-like button that grows from the lining of the colon. Some are benign, some are precancerous and some are cancerous.
Using special equipment that is passed through the scope, the doctor can then remove polyps or obtain biopsies that are checked for cancer.
Depending on the results, you may be scheduled for follow-up colonoscopies. Patients at higher risk might come in once a year or every two years. Patients with low risk might go 10 years between screenings.
Anyone can have polyps, but certain people are more likely than others. You may have a greater chance of developing polyps if:
• You are over 50. The older you get, the more likely you are to develop polyps.
• You have had polyps before.
• Someone in your family had polyps.
• Someone in your family has colon cancer.
You may also be more likely to get polyps if you:
• Eat a lot of fatty foods.
• Drink alcohol.
• Don’t exercise.
• Are overweight.
Fruits and vegetables contain beneficial chemicals called antioxidants which contribute to good health. People who eat diets rich in fruits and vegetables seem to have a lower incidence of many cancers, including colon cancer.
To find out more about colon health, visit a gastroenterology practice. Many have literature, brochures and handouts that explain why colonrectal cancers are preventable and how colonoscopies are performed. Or visit the American Cancer Society’s website at http://www.cancer.org.