Colon cancer is not a common topic of conversation, but it is a fairly common type of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), about 102,480 new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed each year. When coupled with rectal cancer, which accounts for about 40,340 new cases annually, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer found in men and women, excluding skin cancers. If you were born in 1964, you will turn the big 5-0 this year. Even if you aren’t ready to sign up for an AARP membership card, you should undergo a colorectal cancer screening. That is because your chances of developing the disease increase considerably after reaching the half-century mark. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, about 9 out of 10 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer are at least 50-years-old.
Colon cancer has no single cause. Some people have a higher risk of developing colon cancer because this form of the disease tends to run in families. Others who are diagnosed with the disease have a personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, or certain inherited gene changes that can cause the disease. Being over the age of 50 and African American also can increase the risk of developing colon cancer.
So what can you do to reduce your risk of colon cancer?
While you cannot control your age, race or family history, there are a number of lifestyle-related steps you can take to help prevent the disease.
•Eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits daily
Avoid a diet that is high in red meats, such as beef or lamb, and processed meats, including hot dogs. Opt for whole grains instead of refined grains, and limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day for women and two per day for men.
The ACS recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity for adults on five or more days of the week.
•Manage your weight
While being overweight or obese increases the risk for colon cancer in both men and women, this risk tends to be stronger in men.
Some of the substances from smoking that can cause cancer are swallowed and can increase the risk of the disease developing in the digestive system, which includes the colon.
The last five feet of the intestine make up the colon where nutrients from food are digested and stools are formed. Colon cancer usually begins as an overgrowth of normal cells, called a polyp. It takes about 10 to 15 years for these polyps to develop into colon cancer. But the polyps can be removed when detected early through screening so cancer can be avoided or even prevented.
Colon and rectal cancer should be distinguished from anal cancer, another form of serious cancer. Anal cancers are caused the by the human papilloma virus and are found in a very significant number of men who have sex with men and HIV positive patients regardless of gender or sexual orientation. Routine colon and rectal screening through the use of colonoscopy does not adequately screen for anal cancers. Anal pap smears and the use of a technique called high resolution anoscopy is the best way to screen for anal cancer. Ask your physician about pap smears if you fall into either of the above risk groups.
Just because you have a risk factor for colon cancer does not mean you will develop the disease. People who do not have any identifiable risk factors for colon cancer should begin regular colorectal screening at age 50. Those with risk factors for the disease should talk to their doctor about being screened at a younger age and/or being screened more frequently.
For more information, go to FASCRS.org and find a colonoscopy provider near you or call 954-772-4553.