We’ll be blunt. Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. It will kill more than 50,000 Americans this year – more than die in car crashes.
But it doesn’t have to be so deadly. Ninety percent of colorectal cancers are completely curable, if diagnosed early, but the odds plummet to just 10 percent if tumors are found late. Many are; only about 30 percent of Americans over age 50 have had a simple colonoscopy.
The encouraging news about this lethal cancer is that a little education and adopting a few healthful habits can go a long way in conferring protection. Consider the expert advice below:
- When you turn 50, schedule your first colonoscopy screening and repeat it every five years. If your primary care physician doesn’t suggest it, you should. In this preventive scan, you’ll be sedated while a small, lighted endoscope inspects your colon and rectum for polyps – mushroom-like growths at risk for turning cancerous. If discovered during the scan, the polyps can be removed immediately, greatly diminishing your future risk.
- Eat grilled meats in moderation, and avoid smoking and chewing tobacco. Whether inhaled or swallowed, carcinogens in charred or smoked meats, tobacco smoke and “chew” all eventually pass through the colon, where they can up your risk for cancer.
- Balance your diet between “red” and “green” foods. Over-indulgence in red meats (eating more than a pound a week) has been linked to increased risk for colon cancer; on the contrary, adding more green, leafy vegetables to your diet and reducing your intake of foods with high-carb, high-fat, high-cholesterol content, has been shown to reduce risk.
- Stay active. Incorporating more physical activity – walking a pet, taking the stairs over the elevators, cleaning your house – helps stimulate your body’s waste to keep moving along (the longer stool sits in your rectum or colon, the more time toxic chemicals have to leach out into the surrounding tissues).
- Maintain a healthy weight, and know your shape. Obese men and women are at greater risk for colon cancer; “apple” shapes, which gain weight around the waist and vital organs, tend to be at greater risk than “pear” shapes, which store fat in their thighs and hips.
- Learn the obvious symptoms. Through colorectal cancer is a notoriously “quiet” killer, in the later stages, it can give undeniable clues. If you experience bloody stools, diarrhea, cramping and unexplained weight loss, call your doctor immediately.
Put simply, colorectal screening can save your life. If all Americans were screened regularly, colorectal cancer deaths could be cut in half. March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, so why not schedule your test today?
We originally published these tips last year, courtesy of Dr. John Monson, chief of the Division of Colorectal Surgery at URMC. His areas of expertise include minimally invasive technologies for colorectal cancer treatment, in addition to basic research exploring a broad range of cancer-related subjects.
For more information about colon cancer screening, talk to your primary care physician. You can also find doctor videos, patient stories, health facts and more on our colorectal cancer information site.