This week was very sobering. I met a very young lady who was being evaluated for the recent onset of abdominal pain that was progressing in severity without explanation. An abdominal ultrasound discovered a large abdominal mass and subsequent testing confirmed that she had
colon cancer, which had already spread to her liver. She did not have a family history or other obvious risk factors for colorectal cancer, a disease that can strike without warning.
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which gives me an excellent opportunity to remind you about the importance of prevention, as well as of colonoscopy, a test that can literally save your life.
Colorectal cancer (also called colon cancer or large bowel cancer) is the growth of cancerous cells in the colon, rectum and the appendix. It is the most common cancer of the digestive organs, accounting for more than 50 percent of all cases of cancer in the digestive tract. Cancers of the digestive system account for almost 25 percent of annual cancer fatalities in the United States.
Who is at risk for colorectal cancer? The following factors play a role:
While colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in Europe and the United States, it is considered rare in both Africa and Asia (barring Westernized Japan). Why is it more common in the West? Diet and lifestyle differences play an important role. There are seven behavioral risk factors that have been consistently correlated with an increase in colorectal cancer. These are:
Prevention is Key
Fortunately, there's much you can do to prevent colorectal cancer. Good nutrition and physical activity play an important role in preventing colorectal cancer. Aim for at least 30 to 45 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity on most days of the week. The following nutritional factors have also been shown to help prevent colorectal cancer:
Early Detection Makes a Difference
The New York Times may have called it "the most unloved cancer screening test," but colonoscopy can save lives, as new research demonstrates: The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), found that people who had adenomatous polyps identified and removed during a colonoscopy were 53 percent less likely to die from colorectal cancer than those who didn't have the test. That's strong evidence of what many doctors have long suspected: Colonoscopy is vitally important.
Today, colonoscopies are more mainstream -- and media-friendly -- than ever. News anchor Katie Couric underwent a colonoscopy screening on live TV; Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne (a colorectal cancer survivor) teamed up with CBS Cares Colonoscopy Sweepstakes to promote a three-day trip to N.Y. and a free colonoscopy; and Dr. Mehmet Oz brought attention to colonoscopy when he himself had a cancer scare. Such public discussion of a very private issue is raising awareness among millions of Americans in the hope of saving lives.
I want to add to that discussion here by emphasizing how important, effective, safe and valuable colonoscopy is as a screening tool. It's been estimated that more than 50,000 people die each year from colorectal cancer -- but no one should be dying from it, due to the easy access of a colonoscopy procedure, which is covered by most insurance companies. "Many people dislike having the procedure," write the researchers of the NEJM study. "However, a colonoscopy doesn't have to be completed each year." If no polyps are found, you need a colonoscopy just once every 10 years.
Screening for average risk individuals begins at age 50, though studies suggest that African-Americans should begin at age 45. The advice varies for those in higher risk groups:
Colorectal Cancer: Catch It Before It Catches You!
To your good gut heath,
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