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Colon cancer: Protect yourself from this common disease

» An active approach

» Benefiting from early detection

Don’t ignore these symptoms

Besides making sure you get regular screening tests, ensure early detection by reporting any of the following symptoms to your healthcare provider:

  • rectal bleeding
  • blood in the stool
  • a change in bowel habits, including diarrhea and constipation or a change in stool appearance
  • a feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • unexplained weight loss
  • fatigue

You’re at higher risk if …

  • you have a family history of colon cancer
  • you have a family or personal history of polyps
  • you have ulcerative colitis
  • you have Crohn’s disease
  • you eat a high-fat, low-fiber diet
  • you’re older than 50

Can aspirin help?

Studies have shown that aspirin cuts the risk of colon cancer by inhibiting the development of precancerous polyps. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or a personal history of polyps, talk to your healthcare provider about taking aspirin regularly.

Did you know that the only type of malignancy to claim more lives than colon cancer is lung cancer? Here’s what you need to know to protect yourself.

An active approach

Paying attention to just a few areas can dramatically cut your risk of colon cancer as well as improve your overall health. Here are some specific steps you can take:

  • Cut the fat and boost the fiber. Start piling more cruciferous vegetables, legumes, fruits and whole grains on your plate. Experts believe fiber helps by keeping the digestive process moving so cancer-causing wastes spend less time in the bowel.
  • Get moving. Taking a 20-minute walk just three times a week may lower your risk significantly.
  • Limit your alcohol intake. Having more than two drinks a day appears to raise a person’s risk.
  • Stop smoking. The habit plays a role in 30 percent of all cancers. So if you’re still lighting up, make every effort to stop.

Benefiting from early detection

Because most cases of colorectal cancer develop from precancerous polyps, it’s important to detect (and surgically remove) the abnormal growths as soon as possible. The screening programs recommended by the American Cancer Society, beginning at age 50, give you four ways to increase the odds of catching a polyp before cancer starts, as well as three stool tests to detect an early cancer:

  • Sigmoidoscopy every five years. During this 30-minute procedure, the healthcare provider inspects the rectum and lower colon by inserting a hollow, lighted tube through the anus.
  • Double-contrast barium enema every five years. Air is pumped into the colon after it is expanded with a chalky substance (barium). Both the air and the barium are delivered by a thin tube inserted through the anus. An X-ray is then taken.
  • Colonoscopy every 10 years. This test examines the colon and rectum for any abnormalities using a colonoscope—a long, flexible tube inserted through the rectum. The patient is sedated during the test, which usually makes the procedure painless.
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every five years. A CT scanner takes many X-ray images and combines them into a three-dimensional image of the colon and rectum.
  • Fecal occult blood test every year. In this test, a chemical reaction is used to test a small stool sample for hidden blood, a sign of damage to the colorectal tract due to abnormal growths. Certain drugs, vitamins and foods must be avoided before this test.
  • Fecal immunochemical test every year. This newer test also looks for hidden blood in the stool but no dietary or drug restrictions are needed.
  • Stool DNA test as recommended by your healthcare provider. This test looks for evidence of colon cancer cells in the stool.

If the tests reveal any potential problems, your healthcare provider may recommend additional tests. And if you’re at high risk for developing colon cancer, he or she may recommend a different screening schedule.


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