Colorectal cancer is the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women combined, in the US. The good news is it’s also the most treatable cancer if caught early.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month so for our first Health Happens of the month we talked to gastroenterologist Alex Ende, MD, about colon cancer prevention, “Unfortunately, it’s a very common cancer but the great thing is, with screenings, we can reduce the incidence of colon cancer by 90%. When found early, it is very treatable, and has a good survival rate.”
The American Cancer Society now recommends getting regular coloscopies at age 45. If colon cancer runs in your family, talk to your doctor about starting screenings earlier, “The goal with these tests is not necessarily to detect colon cancer but detect the precancerous lesions and treat those before it ever becomes colon cancer,” Explains Dr. Ende.
Many people are worried about getting a colonoscopy, “Everybody’s fear is that it’s going to be really uncomfortable. I can tell you the most common reaction I get afterward is, ‘wow that really wasn’t bad’. The prep is often the hardest part, but the volume of liquid you have to drink is less, it used to be a gallon,” says Dr. Ende.
The liquid clears your colon out so it’s easier for the doctor to find precancerous lesions or polyps, and remove them. That removal process is something you won’t even feel, “You don’t have those types of pain receptors in your colon, so removing those is completely painless,” adds Dr. Ende.
In addition to coloscopies, there are other things you can do to prevent colorectal cancer. When it comes to your diet, eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans. Those food groups are linked to lower cancer risk and can help improve bowel function. Limit your intake of red meat and foods that are high in fat or processed, they can increase your risk of colon cancer.
Your risk of colon cancer also increases if you are overweight or obese. So, try to include at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five days a week. Smoking and drinking alcohol also increases your risk of colon cancer. Women shouldn’t have more than one alcoholic drink daily and no more than two drinks per day for men. If you smoke, you should take steps to try to quit right away.
There are some symptoms you should be aware of that can indicate colon cancer, “The main symptoms we look for are blood in the stool, anemia, changes in bowel habits, changes in weight, all of those things can be symptoms of colon cancer,” says Dr. Ende. “The other thing that’s important to know is sometimes there are no symptoms, which is why all patients should be screened for colon cancer,” he adds.
9Health offers a colon cancer screening kit, called the InSure FIT kit, that you can pick up at a 9Health Fair. The take-home/mail-in kit is $30 and checks for blood in the stool, which can be a symptom of colon cancer. The test screens for colon cancer and colon polyps.
The kit is in an easy-to-use package that you use in the privacy of your own home and mail samples to a lab. You just need to gently brush the surface of a stool sample in water for five seconds with the convenient, long-handled blue brush. “If your test comes back positive it definitely needs to be followed with a colonoscopy,” adds Dr. Ende.