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National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March 13, 2012

In 20ll, an estimated 141,210 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and about 49,380 fell victim to the cancer.  While these numbers are upsetting, what we must remember today about this disease is that prevention is the greatest key to get these numbers down.  This month is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and it is SO important to bring attention to prevention and early detection.


What is colon cancer?

Colorectal cancer develops in the colon or the rectum, parts of the lower gastrointestinal tract that are involved in the processing of the food we eat for energy and ridding the body of waste.  Polyps, which are noncancerous growths in the lining of the colon or rectum, can be removed with minimal risk if caught early on.  However, oftentimes these polyps can become cancerous.


Who is at risk?

The greatest risk is to those with hereditary factors.  If you have a first generation relative with the disease, you are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop the disease than individuals without a familial connection to the disease.  Also at risk are those who have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis).  Crohn’s disease is an inflammation that can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus, where ulcerative colitis is limited to inflammation of the colon.  There is also increased risk in individuals with diabetes.  People who have had polyps before also have a greater risk of developing colon cancer.



The greatest form of prevention is regular screening.  Beginning at age 50, The American Cancer Society recommends that both men and women get a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years, a colonoscopy every 10 years, a double-contrast barium enema every 5 years, and virtual colonoscopy every 5 years.  Those with increased risk through a first relative should get screened a little more regularly than these numbers suggest, and might want to begin closer to age 40 rather than 50.


While the previously mentioned risk factors are not quite in our control, there are some factors that can put people at risk that can be controlled.  Maintaining a healthy body weight, decreasing intake of red meat and processed meat consumption, no smoking, and limiting alcohol consumption are all ways to decrease risk.


Research has also suggested that a high fiber diet can increase bowel health, in turn reducing the risk of polyp formation and lowering the risk of colon cancer.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 25-35g of fiber per day.  Cruciferous vegetables, fruits and whole grains are the best sources of fiber, as well as providing phytochemicals, which are also being linked to decreasing the risk of certain cancers.


So take the time today to schedule a screening if you are due, and examine your diet and see if you can cut back even just once a week on red and processed meat intake, and add a few fruits and veggies in instead.  Your colon will thank you!




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