Physicians' Voice in the News: Cutting Colorectal Cancer Risk

March 8, 2017

Dr. Caton is a native of North Carolina and attended UNC Chapel Hill as an undergraduate and the University Caton.jpgof South Carolina School of Medicine. Family experiences with colon cancer and inflammatory bowel disease helped focus his practice and drive the compassionate care that he strives to provide for all patients. He is accepting patients at Blue Mountain Surgery and is a member of the Western Carolina Medical Society.

Some diseases cannot be clearly explained, and many cannot be caught early and cured. But colorectal cancer is not one of these.

Five percent of all Americans will develop colorectal cancer during their lives, but there are things you can do for your family that can reduce your risk for the disease. Just as you can help prevent head injury with bike helmets and a car breakdown with a scheduled tune-up, you can prevent colon and rectal cancer.

The first step is to know the signs … and tell your doctor if you notice: abdominal pain, significant unexplained weight loss, any change in the size of your stool, or any blood in your stool. Do not assume that blood in your bowel movement is just your hemorrhoids.

Most people with colon cancer have no symptoms. That is why the second step is so important: getting a periodic screening test from your doctor.

Most people need to be screened for colorectal cancer at age 50 because that is the age when risk increases. Some people who have a family history of colon cancer may need a screening at a younger age. So ask about your parents’ and siblings’ health and then ask your doctor when you should get a screening test.

There are two kinds of screening. The best test is a colonoscopy every 10 years, more often if you have risk factors. This is the only test that can detect and remove a growth of tissue (polyp) inside the colon before it becomes cancer.

There are also new stool tests available that can detect small pieces of DNA from a large colon polyp or cancer. The test is done at home and mailed to a lab. Ask your doctor if you are an appropriate patient for this type of test. Also, ask if your insurance will cover it, because some companies won't.

Additional steps may require lifestyle changes, such as:

• Eat a diet high in a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, which may play a role in deterring cancer development. Avoid red meat, especially salted and heavily cured meats.

• Limit alcohol consumption to one drink a day for women and two drinks for men.

• Stop smoking. You can talk to your doctor about medications that can make quitting easier.

• Exercise 30 minutes on most days. Ask your doctor how to increase your activity slowly if you have been inactive in the past.

• Maintain a healthy weight. Increased weight increases the risk of cancer.

Finding a polyp and removing it during colonoscopy is like finding out about a traffic jam ahead of you and taking a different route to avoid it. You will save yourself and your family time and frustration and also prevent a Finding a polyp and removing it during colonoscopy is like finding out about a traffic jam ahead of you and taking a different route to avoid it. You will save yourself and your family time and frustration and also prevent a bad outcome that can be prevented — like colon cancer. Screening for diseases such as breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer and colorectal cancer protects you like all the other small things you do to make your loved ones safe.

If you have a loved one who is 50 or older, make sure they wear a seat belt in the car and have plenty of air in their car's tires, and encourage them to get colorectal cancer screening.

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