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Mache Seibel, MD Headshot

Colonoscopy Challenge: Get a Light at the End of Your Tunnel

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When I say "colonoscopy," most people don't respond with "Sign me up." But what if it came with an all-expenses-paid trip to New York? Because March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne want to encourage you to have a colonoscopy. They are heading a colonoscopy sweepstake, which you can enter at www.CBSCares.tv. That's right, win a free trip to New York, get wined and dined, and then as your grand finale, receive your free colonoscopy. What could be better?

This type of awareness helps get the word out. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death for both men and women, second only to lung cancer. Ladies, you are more likely to die of colon cancer than breast cancer. More people die from it than from breast cancer and HIV combined. But it doesn't have to be that way -- one person dying every 9.3 minutes.

Colorectal cancer is almost completely preventable if it is caught early. It's simple: Just get annual screening for hidden blood in your stool and a routine colonoscopy after age 50 and repeat it as often as recommended by your doctor. More than 90 percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer are over 50. Research has shown that 1 in 4 people over age 50 have polyps, which are cancer precursors. Here are nine additional tips to help you prevent colon cancer.

1. Eat a balanced diet.
Eat more fruits and vegetables and less red meat. Diets that are high in fat and cholesterol, especially from animal fats, increase your risk of colon cancer. High-fiber diets help protect you from colon cancer. A new study shows whole grains such as barley, buckwheat, quinoa and whole wheat lower your risk.

2. Watch your weight.
Although obese men are at more risk for colon cancer than obese women, being obese increases the risk for everyone. Another risk factor is the shape of your body; a person with a thicker waist (apple shape) has a higher rate of colon cancer risk more than a person with extra fat in the thighs or hips (pear shaped).

3. Stay active.
Exercising reduces colon cancer risk by as much as 40 percent. Of course, exercise also reduces your risk of other risk factors for colon cancer, like obesity and diabetes.

4. Know your genetic risk.
Some people have an increased risk of colon cancer due to genetic mutations. So do people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Talk with your doctor about genetic counseling.

5. Find out your family medical history.
I've talked about this in my FREE Health Accelerator video series. Knowing your family medical history can save your life. A family history of stomach, liver, and bone cancer may also put you at increased risk for colon cancer.

6. Discuss your personal medical history.
Time with the doctor is often limited, but be sure to discuss your personal medical history. Believe me, your doctor wants and needs to know your medical history, so tell him or her. Make sure they know if you have a history of polyps, certain cancers, or chronic inflammation of the bowel, all of which increase your colon cancer risk.

7. Don't smoke.
You probably know smoking is a risk factor for lung cancer. But it's also a risk factor for colon cancer. Tobacco smoke that's inhaled or swallowed carries carcinogens to the colon. Studies suggest that tobacco increases polyp size. One more reason not to smoke.

8. Reduce radiation exposure.
We are all constantly bombarded with low amounts of radiation. Low amounts come from the soil, radon, electronics and airplane travel. Medical X-rays like dental, mammograms and chest X-rays are fairly low in radiation but others like a barium enema or a CT scan are higher. Although radiation from airport scanners is supposed to be low, I travel a lot and insist on getting pat downs instead of going through the scanners. Time will tell if this is necessary or not. But for now, I'm skipping the airport scanners.

9. See your doctor if you have thin stools, cramping, unexplained weight loss, or bloody stools.

In honor of Colon Cancer Awareness Month, I'd like to offer all of you a FREE musical colon cancer prevention StayWellCard® to send to your friend or family member 50 or over. It's a nice way to say, "Get a light at the end of your tunnel." Entering your name and email will give you instant access. You can enter the recipient's name, email address and a brief message. Make a difference; send a reminder.

For more by Mache Seibel, MD, click here.

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