Get to Know the Basics of Colon Cancer
Symptoms of early stage colon cancer are often unseen. Once they do begin to be noticeable, this generally means the cancer is already far along in its development. Symptoms such as loss of appetite, bloating, abnormal bowel habits, bloody stools, difficulty with bowel movements, narrowing of stools and unexplained weight loss are indicators or colon cancer. If you do not normally experience these symptoms, and if they appear suddenly and then continue for a period of two weeks or more, you should seek immediate medical attention.
Eat Right, Live Right—Stay Safe and Far Away from the Risks of Colon Cancer
- Diet – Focus on eating more fruits, vegetables and foods that are high in fiber. For example, eat whole-wheat bread instead of white bread, nuts and whole grains and a variety of fruits. These will improve bowel activity and prevent constipation. Limit the amount of red meat you eat, including pork, beef, goat, mutton, and processed meats. Red meat intake should not exceed 700-750 gm/week, especially processed meats. This includes sausage, ham, bacon, etc. Meat processing can lead to the formation of potentially cancer-causing (carcinogenic) chemicals. Instead, eat more fish, which in addition to preventing colorectal cancer can also help your cholesterol levels.
- Exercise – This is something that should be incorporated into your regular routine, as there is evidence that exercise and increasing your level of activity lowers your risk of colorectal cancer. You should try to do some kind of appropriate aerobic type exercise at least 3 times a week for about 45 minutes per session. If you find it difficult to get out of the house to go to the gym, try doing some gardening, taking the dog for a walk, or go for a run around your housing complex or neighborhood—these are all good ways of getting exercise.
- Screening – If colon cancer is hereditary in your family, there’s not much that can be done to prevent it, but taking good care of yourself and your health and undergoing colonoscopy screening, which currently employs new technologies that allow for easier and much more precise screening procedures, can help to reduce the risk of colon cancer by as much as 90%. This is because polyps take between 10-15 years to become cancerous. This means that if a patient had a screening today and no polyps or cancer was found, they could wait another 5 years before undergoing another screening. Within that 5-year period, however, they would need to be free of any abnormal symptoms and not be in any of the risk groups for increased chances of colon cancer. In the event of any abnormal symptoms or if there is a family history of colon cancer, patients would need to check more frequently than that, as the disease could progress more quickly than in the average person.
A Memorable Example
I once had a female patient in her late 30’s who never had any symptoms that would point to colon cancer. About 3 months after giving birth, the patient came to see me, saying she felt uncomfortable and had constipation and bowel movement difficulties. Results of a fecal test showed that there was blood in the stool, and so a colonoscopy was performed during which a rather large polyp was found. The size of the polyp meant it had been there for some time. When taking a more detailed medical history, the patient then said that in fact she’d had gas and abdominal discomfort quite frequently, that it would come and go with no clear pattern. Whenever she would take medication it would feel better for periods of time and so she didn’t suspect anything. This, coupled with the fact that pregnant women often experience abdominal discomfort, led her to believe there was no danger. After giving birth, however, when she continued to have difficulties with bowel movements, to the point of not being able to have them at all, she finally decided to come and see the doctor.
This example teaches us that even those who are still young, who are not in the usual at-risk group for this type of cancer, and who do not have clear symptoms can still be at risk of colon cancer. Don’t be overconfident—start taking steps to prevent colon cancer today.