Take Steps to Prevent Colon Cancer

Medically reviewed by: Gary H. Hoffman, MD

Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, defines a cancer of the large intestine. According to the National Cancer Institute, 4.3% of adult men and women may be diagnosed with colorectal cancer during their lifetime.

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While survival rates following diagnosis are determined on a case-by-case basis, earlier diagnosis often facilitates better outcomes. Take steps to prevent colon cancer, including lifestyle changes and routine screening procedures. Such steps can reduce colorectal cancer risk factors and lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment.

Steps and Strategies to Prevent Colon Cancer

Most colon cancers originate from adenomatous polyps. Polyps are abnormal growths that grow on the lining of the colon (large intestine). The majority are benign or noncancerous. However, adenomatous polyps can be precursors to colon cancer, more commonly diagnosed in individuals over 50 years of age.

Two routine tests on a regular basis can reduce risk of developing colorectal or colon cancer:

  • Colonoscopy screening. Routine ten-year colonoscopy screenings are recommended for patients over 50 years of age, but before that if a patient has a sibling or parent that has been diagnosed with adenomatous polyps and/or colon cancer. While polyps may be removed through colonoscopy, they can recur. In such cases, physicians recommend routinely scheduled colonoscopy exams or other diagnostic tests every five years.

A colonoscopy or colorectal cancer endoscopy allows visual examination of the inside of the rectum and the colon through the use of fiber-optic technology. This technology enables identification of anomalies and abnormalities inside the rectum and large intestine, as well as biopsies of tissue samples for examination in a lab. The colonoscopy test is an outpatient procedure conducted under intravenous sedation.

Prior to the procedure, the patient is given instructions on how to prepare for the test – a process that can take up to three days before the screening appointment. Typically, a low-fiber diet leading up to the procedure. The day before, a clear liquid diet is recommended. A liquid bowel-cleansing preparation may also be suggested, provided by the pharmacy, such as magnesium citrate or polyethylene glycol or something similar. This solution clears the intestine of any fecal remnants. You may be instructed to take bisacodyl tablets with water the evening before your procedure. Follow instructions provided by the physician in regard to timing based on your scheduled appointment.

The procedure itself takes roughly 30 minutes, but allow up to three hours at the hospital, the clinic, or the outpatient center. Because you’ll be under sedation, you’ll need to have someone drive you home.

  • A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) is recommended annually for individuals over 50 years of age. This test checks for signs of blood in the stool. Cancerous growths or large polyps have a tendency to bleed. The test is often a precursor to a colonoscopy, and may increase potential for a faster identification, diagnosis, and removal of precancerous polyps.

Adapt Lifestyle and Eating Habits to Reduce Cancer Risk

Reducing risk for colorectal cancer may also involve changes in lifestyle and habits. For example:

  • A low-fat, high fiber diet.  Several daily servings of vegetables, fruits, and cereals may also help to reduce risk. High-fiber foods add bulk to components traveling through the large intestine prior to elimination, reducing the duration such waste – which may contain carcinogens – remains in the colon. The added bulk is also believed to increase peristalsis, the wavelike movement that pushes waste through the colon for elimination.

A study in polyp prevention with a low-fat, high fiber diet reported a 35% reduced risk of adenoma polyps occurring in those who remained compliant over the course of the study.

  • Stop smoking. While smoking is more commonly linked to lung cancer, it’s also associated with the development of other cancers including colorectal cancer.
  • Lose weight. Obesity has long been linked to co-morbidity factors that affect the metabolic, hormonal, and other body systems. Overweight or obese individuals have an increased risk of emergent colorectal cancer.
  • Reduce alcohol intake. Heavy alcohol use has also been linked to colorectal cancer. Reducing intake to no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men has numerous benefits in reducing risks of multiple health issues.

Early detection and diagnosis is essential for improving prognosis. If you’re over 50 years of age or a family history of cancer and haven’t had a fecal occult blood test or a colonoscopy, call your doctor to schedule an appointment.

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