Colonoscopy, a word that doesn’t really conjure up a lot of happy feelings, yet is one of the most underutilized life saving tools that we have. Every 9 minutes, a person in the U.S. dies of colon cancer, and is the 2nd leading cause of cancer death in men and women. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month so let me help make you aware of some colon cancer prevention tips.

Dr. Deb’s Colon Prevention Tips

1. GET SCREENED

Can’t really say it enough about screening. Survival depends on early detection with a 90% five-year survival rate in cases that have been detected at an early stage.  Most colon cancer starts as a slow growing precancerous polyp that can easily be removed and never progress to cancer.  1 in 3 adults will have polyps so all adults should have a colonoscopy or other screening test every 10 years starting at age 50. If you have a family history or any bowel symptoms then talk to your doctor about screening earlier. Half of all colon cancer deaths could be PREVENTED if everyone age 50 and older were screened.

Know your Risk!

Family history of colon cancer, colon polyps, irritable bowel and, inflammatory bowl diseases, and minority groups such as Alaska Natives, American Indians, Ashkenazi Jews, African Americans and Hispanics should talk to your doctor about early screening. African Americans are the ethnic group with the highest death rate from colon cancer because they are diagnosed at later stages, most likely due to lack of early screening.

Without proper screening and colon cancer is diagnosed at a regional stage, the 5-year survival rate drops to 70%. The five-year survival rate for colon cancer found at the distant stage is only 12%. Many people are afraid of one of the best tests, a colonoscopy but the procedure itself is often painless as good sedating medication is usually given.  The most difficult part is the bowel prep, which has been improved, although you will be camped out in the toilet the evening before.  Newer non-invasive technology such as 3D CT still requires bowel prep. You want to start the medicine in the early evening or late afternoon as instructed by your doctor so you can be finished with the colon cleanse before it is time to sleep. Look, some medispas offer colonic cleanses as a beauty treatment so think of it as a fresh clean start that may save your life!

2.  Aspirin a Day Keeps Cancer Away

Aspirin has also been shown to decrease the risk of colon cancer by 44%. Celebrex, a common NSAID or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine often used to treat arthritis has been approved by the FDA for reducing polyp formation in people with a familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), but NSAIDS and aspirin can cause serious bleeding problems so talk to your doctor before you start.

3. Get Physical

Regular physical exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of colon cancer.

Maintain a healthy weight with a diet high in fruit, vegetables and fiber, limit alcohol and don’t use tobacco. Easy to say but hard to do but would help with pretty much every health problem. Obesity, tobacco, alcohol and high red meat consumption are all associated with colon cancer. Fiber seems to help push the toxic food through the colon and most Americans are not getting the 25-35 grams needed daily. Calcium, Vitamin D Magnesium supplements may decrease the risk of colon cancer but not entirely proven.

4. Hormone Replacement Therapy

Combined use of estrogen and progesterone in postmenopausal women did decrease colon cancer by 40%. Hormones do have risks including blood clots so again, discuss your risks with your doctor. Oral contraceptives may also decrease risk of cancer but not entirely proven so talk to your doctor.

Cut the excuses and get the screen. Make the appointment for your loved one and encourage them to go. It is very likely to save a life!

Dr. Deb