5 Ways to Prevent Colon Cancer

Article Date: Mar 1, 2014

Dr. Erin Jenkins
Dr. Jenkins

March is national Colorectal Cancer Awareness month and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colon cancer is the second leading cancer killer of both men and women in the U.S. Each year, 140,000 people in this country are diagnosed with colon cancer and 50,000 people will die from it.

Dr. Erin Jenkins, a gastroenterologist with Alegent Creighton Clinic, shares five things you need to know that can help you prevent colon cancer.

  1. Have a colorectal cancer screening when you turn 50
    Approximately 90 percent of colorectal cancers are diagnosed in people older than 50 - so individuals at average risk for colon cancer should begin some form of colorectal cancer screening at age 50.

    Talk with your doctor if you experience symptoms such as blood in the stool, anemia, or a change in stool shape or form. A colonoscopy may be recommended.

    There are many ways to screen for colorectal cancer, but a colonoscopy is the most commonly used method. Polyps are benign, precancerous lesions that grow on the inside lining of the colon. Some, but not all, polyps can become cancerous over the course of years. The goal of a colonoscopy is to detect and remove any precancerous polyps long before they have a chance to grow and progress into a cancer. The advantage of a colonoscopy is that polyps can be detected and resected without surgery at the time of the colonoscopy procedure. If left to grow, polyps can progress to a large tumor to the point of causing symptoms, requiring surgery or chemotherapy or may have even spread to other organs.

  2. Maintain a healthy weight
    Maintaining a healthy weight is good for your overall general health and decreases your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Large, population-based studies have shown that obesity increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Scientists are still trying to determine exactly why happens, but it is likely due to multiple complex mechanisms.

  3. Eat a healthy diet
    Rates of colorectal cancer are higher in countries where people follow a Western diet. In some studies, eating red meat more than five times per week has been associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. This is particularly true in relation to processed red meat. The jury is still out, but it appears that eating a high-fiber diet rich in fruits and vegetables, and limiting intake of red meat and processed meat, is good for overall health and may decrease your risk of colorectal cancer.

  4. Know your family history
    Family history plays a role in some colon cancers. Risk is particularly increased if a close relative, such as a parent or sibling, has been diagnosed with colon cancer or a large/advanced polyp before the age of 60. People with a family history of multiple cancers, including multiple cases of uterine cancer at a young age and ovarian cancer, may have a genetic syndrome that also increases the risk of colorectal cancer. People with these family histories need to begin colorectal cancer screening at an earlier age and should talk to their physician to make an individualized decision about when to begin screening.

  5. Stop smoking
    Tobacco releases many carcinogenic or cancer-causing compounds that can reach the lining of the colon either through the blood stream or through direct ingestion and cause damage to the cells. Smokers are two times more likely to develop a pre-cancerous polyp and rates of colon cancer, and especially rectal cancer, are increased in smokers. This risk is dose dependent, meaning it increases based on number of cigarettes smoked and number of years a person smokes.

Reader Comments
Posted: Mar 6 2014 10:15 AM CST by Matt McCahill

I just want to echo the importance of a colonoscopy at age 50. I waited until I was 51 due to being busy the year before due to graduations and my daughter's wedding. At 51, they found a malignant polyp that was not able to be removed during the colonscopy. I had surgery to remove it, the margins were clear and I have not had a reccurrence. I faithfully get my follow ups as ordered. I did not have to go through what so many others have and for that I am grateful. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have had to endure so much more. I just encourage everyone to get their colonoscopy at age 50.

Posted: Mar 7 2014 9:00 AM CST by Matt McCahill

I was too busy and never sick so 50 came and went. At 52 I started feeling awful. I had stomach aches, trouble eating, lack of sleep so I thought menopause and caffeine were the reason. I gave up caffeine but still felt awful. Finely had to go see doctor. Ordered a colonoscopy. I had a blockage and it was cancer. On to surgery I went. Eight inches of my colon and three sections of small intestine gone. Eight months of chemo. I was blessed by God, because none in lymph nodes but didn't know that until fours days after surgery. For four days I and my family thought because of the size and spread of the tumors that I had four to six months to live. Chemo was nothing compared to those four days! Now I go every three months for a check up and once a year for my colonoscopy. I am a two year survivor, but will never be too busy again to get a colonoscopy because had I taken the time to go two years sooner I wouldn't of probably had to go through the hell I did.

Posted: Mar 7 2014 9:20 AM CST by Matt McCahill

My maternal grandfather passed away at the age of 77 from colon cancer. My mother had her first colonoscopy at the age of 69, and she had two large pre-cancerous polyps. The doctors said six months more and my mom would have had full blown colon cancer. Several inches of my mom's colon had to be removed. My siblings and I have started getting colonoscopies well before the age of 40, as my older sister has been getting polyps since the age of 19! My husband's best friend just had his first colonoscopy at the age of 51, and said to say, he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer, which is now deemed terminal as it has spread throughout his body. Please do not ignore getting a colonoscopy; colon cancer can be avoided.

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Dr. Erin Jenkins

Alegent Creighton Clinic