by Celeste Miller-Parish, DO
Did you ever wish you could prevent cancer? It is possible with one type of cancer, Colon Cancer. Most cancers can only be treated after they show up. Colon cancer has about a 10 year process of developing from polyps before it becomes a cancer. During this time, if the polyp is removed, a cancer is prevented from occurring later. Some people are more at risk for developing a cancer. Your age and health history are big factors in your risk evaluation. Some risk factors for colon cancer include: age 50 or older, a family history of colon or rectal cancer, a personal history of cancer of the ovary, endometrium, breast, or polyps in the colon, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, and hereditary conditions such as; familial polyposis or hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC, Lynch Syndrome)
Colon cancer will present with certain signs and symptoms (which can be also be found with other diseases), but if you have any of the following, you should be seen by your doctor: Changes in your normal bowel, habit, dark or bright red blood in your stool, diarrhea or constipation or feeling that the bowel does not completely empty, stools that become narrower in size over time, frequent gas pains with bloating, fullness, or cramps, unexplained weight loss, fatigue, and vomiting.
You can be pro-active by changing your lifestyle to decrease your risk of cancer. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains is suggested. A healthy diet includes five or more servings of vegetables and fruits each day. Limiting processed grains, and eating more whole grains is also important. Limiting red meats or processed meats is important. Changing to more white meat and fish in your diet is protective against cancer. Taking Aspirin or statin medications (cholesterol lowering medication) has been shown to be protective against colon cancer and polyp formation.
An exciting new study has shown that regular exercise will decrease the risk of colon polyps by 16%, and decrease the formation of larger polyps that are most likely to become a cancer by up to 30%. Recommendations of at least 30 minutes (or more) of exercise 5 days a week seem to boost the immune system and decrease the inflammation in the bowel. Exercise is also beneficial in controlling weight and lowering insulin levels.
Several things we do increase our risk for developing colon cancer and other cancers. Physical inactivity is a big factor, which also leads to obesity. Smoking and drinking in excess have a synergistic effect in promoting cancer development. One study by the American Cancer Society has shown that long-term smoking (40 years or more) increases colon cancer risk by 30-50%. Having Type II diabetes and being overweight increase your risk. Having ‘belly fat’ or a larger waistline is linked to cancer.
One of the least recognized ways to decrease your risk of colon cancer is to have a colonoscopy with removal of all polyps. A screening colonoscopy is recommended every 10 years, or more often if you have polyps, or other risk factors. This requires a ‘bowel prep’ to clear the colon of stool, and then light sedation so the procedure can be accomplished without discomfort. It is done as an outpatient procedure. You should start colon screening at age 50, or sooner if you develop new symptoms. Talk to your physician if you have any questions. Colonoscopy has been shown to decrease the incidence of colon cancer up to 77-90%. That is hard to beat!
Other accepted colon screening methods include stool studies for occult blood, along with a sigmoidoscopy. This primarily screens just the left colon, which is where 60% of colon polyps occur. It does not require sedation, but it also does not check the right colon.
Several newer techniques to detect polyps or cancer are now available such as a CT colonography. This is a CT scan of the colon to look for lesions. It still requires a ‘bowel prep’ like the colonoscopy. Air has to be injected in the rectum to allow a good study. Unfortunately if you have a polyp, you still would need a colonoscopy to remove it. They are now doing stool DNA studies which are 50-60% sensitive for colon cancer cells. This is not as good as a colonoscopy, but has less risk. It should improve in its accuracy in the next few years.
March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Scotland County Hospital offers colon screening in The Surgery Center Monday – Friday. There are two General Surgeons and two Family Practice physicians that offer colon screenings, Dr. Celeste Miller-Parish, General Surgeon, Dr. Lisa Rollison, General Surgeon, Dr. Jeff Davis, Family Practice and Dr. Heather Martin, Family Practice. To make an appointment for a consultation, please call Memphis Medical Services at 660-465-2828.
Celeste Miller-Parish, DO, is Board Certified in General Surgery, fellowship in Breast Surgical Oncology. She is the Chief of Surgery at Scotland County Hospital in Memphis, MO.