Colon cancer: Take steps to protect yourself
Did you know that the only type of malignancy to claim more lives than colon cancer is lung cancer? Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.
An active approach
Don't ignore these symptoms
Besides making sure you get regular screening tests, ensure early detection by reporting any of the following symptoms to your healthcare provider:
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool
- A change in bowel habits, including diarrhea and constipation or a change in stool appearance
- A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abdominal pain
You're at higher risk if:
- You have a family history of colon cancer
- You have a family or personal history of polyps
- You have ulcerative colitis
- You have Crohn’s disease
- You eat a high-fat, low-fiber diet
- You’re older than 50
Can asprin help?
Studies have shown that aspirin cuts the risk of colon cancer by inhibiting the development of precancerous polyps. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or a personal history of polyps, talk to your healthcare provider about taking aspirin regularly.
Paying attention to just a few areas can dramatically cut your risk of colon cancer as well as improve your overall health. Here are some specific steps you can take:
- Cut the fat and boost the fiber. Start piling more cruciferous vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains on your plate. Experts believe fiber helps by keeping the digestive process moving so cancer-causing wastes spend less time in the bowel.
- Get moving. Taking a 20-minute walk just three to four times a week may lower your risk significantly. Other moderate exercise such as gardening or climbing steps may also help reduce your risk.
- Limit your alcohol intake. Having more than two drinks a day appears to raise a person’s risk.
- Stop smoking. The habit plays a role in 30 percent of all cancers. So if you’re still lighting up, make every effort to stop.
- Get regular screenings. Begin at age 50 or sooner if you have a family history of colorectal cancer, colorectal polyps or other cancer or inflammatory bowel disease.
- Be aware of symptoms. Remember that if you have symptoms such as abdominal pain, blood in the stool, unexpected weight loss or change in bowel habits you should discuss a diagnostic colonoscopy. Screening suggestions do not apply when you have symptoms.
Benefiting from early detection
Because most cases of colorectal cancer develop from precancerous polyps, it’s important to detect (and surgically remove) the abnormal growths as soon as possible. The screening guidelines are fairly well accepted by the societies that diagnose and treat colon cancer. There are different screening options, but colonoscopy is the gold standard. The goal of all screening studies is to detect lesions before they have become cancer, or if cancer exists, to detect it at an early stage.
- Colonoscopy every 10 years. This test examines the colon and rectum for any abnormalities using a colonoscope—a long, flexible tube inserted into the rectum. The patient is sedated during the test, which usually makes the procedure painless.
- Sigmoidoscopy every five years beginning at age 50. During this 30-minute procedure, the healthcare provider inspects the rectum and lower colon by inserting a hollow, lighted tube through the anus. It’s important to recognize that only a limited portion of the colon is examined with a sigmoidoscopy.
- Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years. Air is pumped into the colon after it is expanded with a chalky substance (barium). Both the air and the barium are delivered by a thin tube inserted through the anus. An X-ray is then taken. If a suspicious lesion is identified then a colonoscopy is required.
- CT colonoscopy (virtual colonoscopy) every five years. A CT scanner takes many X-ray images and combines them into a three-dimensional image of the colon and rectum. If a suspicious lesion is identified a colonoscopy is required.
- Fecal occult blood test every year. In this simple test, a chemical reaction is used to test a small stool sample for hidden blood, a sign of damage to the colorectal tract due to abnormal growths. Certain drugs, vitamins and foods must be avoided before this test. A positive test necessitates a colonoscopy.
- Fecal immunochemical test every year. This newer test also looks for hidden blood in the stool but no dietary or drug restrictions are needed. A positive test necessitates a colonoscopy.
- Stool DNA test as recommended by your healthcare provider. This test looks for evidence of colon cancer cells in the stool. A positive test necessitates a colonoscopy.
The timing between tests depends upon any positive findings. Patients at higher risk for colon polyps and colon cancer should follow a much more aggressive screening schedule.
Care right here
Dr. Joseph Matthews
Dr. Douglas Matthews
Dr. Michael Fealk
Enloe is committed to prevention and early detection of cancers of the colon and rectum. Colon and rectal surgeons, Dr. Joseph Matthews, Dr. Douglas Matthews and Dr. Michael Fealk treat benign and malignant conditions, perform routine screening examinations and surgically treat problems when necessary. They specialize in minimally invasive surgery, which offers many benefits over “open” surgery. Drs. Matthews and Fealk focus on techniques that cause less pain and promote faster recovery. Some conditions are precursors to cancer so prompt diagnosis and treatment is imperative.
Contact Enloe General and Colorectal Surgery Clinic at (530) 891-4523 or find out more about the surgeons and available services and more about good colon health at www.enloe.org/colorectal. The physician office is at 2 Governors Lane, Suite A, Chico, CA 95926.
Meet us at the Heart & Sole Run for Wellness
Health and fitness are important for our health, including colon health! And March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. So gather your family and friends and sign up for the Heart & Sole Run for Wellness taking place on March 21 at Bidwell Park. The event features a one-mile walk or a 5k+ fun run that begins from the CARD Center. Both courses will have fun surprises along the way and treats at the finish line for participants. Plus, your registration fee will help support the Enloe Heart Program.
After the run, the community is invited to participate in the Wellness Expo, which will offer free health screenings and wellness-inspiring activities for the whole family. Look for a booth with information about colon cancer and more about good colon health. Get details and register online today!