March is National Colorectal Awareness Month. Colorectal cancers are the third most common type of cancer diagnosis, when you exclude skin cancers, and affect both men and women at nearly equal rates. As we dive into this topic, there is both good news and bad news to share.
The good news first!
- According to the American Cancer Society, the death rate and the rate of diagnosis of colorectal cancer has been dropping for decades! This is likely due to better treatment options and an increase in preventative screenings.
- Although many in their early stages, more and more research is being conducted on developing alternative and effective colorectal cancer screening options (like blood tests).
- The incidence of colorectal cancers for those over the age of 50 is decreasing.
- You have the choice to adopt healthy habits that may help reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
The bad news...
According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death among people under 50 in the United States, with rates of new diagnoses still climbing in this age group. Since 1995, rates of early-onset colorectal cancer have been trending upwards around the globe and researchers are working hard to explore causes of this unfortunate trend.
Researchers have noted factors that often contribute to colorectal cancers overall include:
- Lack of Exercise
However, they are also investigating additional factors that may provide clues to the early-onset diagnosis including:
- Certain genetic conditions (Lynch syndrome)
- Environmental factors (air and water pollution, chemicals in soil and food, and pesticides)
- Gut health
According to the National Cancer Institute, "There’s mounting evidence linking an unhealthy diet—in particular, one high in processed meat and fat, and low in fruits and vegetables—to early-onset colorectal cancer." In addition, researchers are focusing on bacteria that live in the gut and how different types of bacteria can contribute to the growth of colorectal cancers. Gut bacteria is affected by the foods we eat. Not surprisingly a healthy diet leads to a healthy gut and ultimately a body more equipped to fight disease of all kinds.
How to keep your colon healthy
Keeping your body running optimally is key to good health and fighting off disease like colorectal cancers. Although there are genetic components to colorectal cancers, it is important to eat well, exercise often, and keep up with routine screenings and visits with your medical professional.
1. Consume a high fiber diet
Great sources of fiber include nuts, seeds, berries, lentils, beans, broccoli, carrots, apples, pears, and peas.
2. Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
Eat a "rainbow" of colors when it comes to your fruits and vegetables. Avoid processed foods and focus on whole grains.
3. Limit red meat
Focus on fish or chicken and minimize red meat.
4. Drink enough water
When you're not properly hydrated, toxins can build up in your body. Drinking eight or more glasses of water a day can help move toxins and excrement through your colon more quickly.
5. Exercise regularly
Exercise can encourage more consistent bowel movements. The increase in blood flow and circulation makes your GI system more effective overall.
6. Colonoscopies and Awareness
It's recommended that regular colonoscopies start at age 45 for people at average risk. The polyps and abnormalities that lead to colon cancer can be removed to stop the development or spread of the disease, making colon cancer a highly treatable disease if found early on.
For individuals whose immediate family member has been diagnosed with colon cancer or polyps, it is recommended that you start getting colonoscopies at age 40 or 10 years prior to the diagnosis of your family member.
Even though there are more options for screening for colon cancer, a colonoscopy remains the gold standard because it detects colon cancer and also finds and removes polyps that are the precursors of colon cancer.
Stay aware of your bowel habits and keep your eye out for any abnormalities which could include blood in your stool, unexplained weight loss, abdominal pain, weakness and fatigue, or a change in bowel habits that lasts more than a few days. If any or all of these symptoms appear, it is imperative for you to be in touch with your medical provider.
For those who have the following history, it is critical to communicate with your medical provider to make sure you have a professional opinion on the screening protocols that are right for you:
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's Disease, ulcerative colitis)
- A personal history of radiation to the abdomen
- A family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
Is your colon healthy? Visit a provider at Voyage Healthcare
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women combined, second only to lung cancer. However, colorectal cancer can be cured in up to 90% of men and women when discovered early, and about 40,000 lives per year can be saved with colorectal cancer screening and early treatment.
The American Cancer Society recommends that people of average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45 and then every ten years. People at increased risk should start screening earlier and be screened more often.
Whether it's time for a colonoscopy or you're looking for more information about how to keep your colon healthy, schedule an appointment at Voyage Healthcare to discuss your health! Our colon and rectal surgeons see patients at the Crystal, Maple Grove, and Plymouth offices.