Today, colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis and third leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. The sad part is, colon cancer can be easily detected or prevented due to regular screenings and simple lifestyle changes. This month, as we honor those who fought a battle against colon cancer and celebrate those who are survivors, let’s commit to learning about colon cancer and how we can prevent a diagnosis in our own lives.
Risk Factors You Can Control
There are several risk factors for colon cancer that are within your control. What we mean by that is, you have the ability to take control over your life and personally decrease your risk for colon cancer. These risk factors include obesity, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, and diet. Several of these are linked together and if one is adjusted, the others will follow suit. You may control your obesity by making adjustments to your sedentary lifestyle. Adding in at least 30 minutes of exercise each day will go a long way to not only help you feel better, but protect your colon from cancer. If your diet is largely made up of foods high in fat and low in fiber, then you put yourself at risk for colon cancer. Commit to eating fewer processed foods and increase your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables. By doing so, you will see noticeable changes in your weight as well as your overall gut health. While we don’t pretend that it’s easy to quit smoking, we know how beneficial it is. Smoking causes a variety of serious health problems including colon cancer. Take control over your health today and begin making adjustments to prevent an unwanted diagnosis.
Risk Factors You Cannot Control
Unfortunately, there are risk factors for colon cancer that are beyond your control. These include race, age, genetics, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and diabetes. A diagnosis of Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis as well as Type 2 diabetes increases your risk for colon cancer. As does a genetic disposition to colon cancer such as a family history of the disease or an inherited gene mutation that is typically recognized in the form of Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). Race is another factor that is outside of your control. In the United States, African Americans are at the highest risk of a colon cancer diagnosis and currently have the highest mortality rate associated with colon cancer. On a greater scale, Ashkenazi Jews have the greatest overall risk of developing colon cancer. Lastly, age is a major risk factor as most people are at a greater risk the older they get. This is why colonoscopies are recommended for every adult once they turn 50. However, if you are at a higher risk because of factors beyond your control, talk to your GI doctor—you may be eligible for an earlier screening.
The Truth Behind Colonoscopies
The truth is, they aren’t as bad as they sound. Understanding the details of a colonoscopy as well as its importance can help ease any fear you may have. The procedure only lasts for about half an hour and during this time, you are asleep, which means the colonoscopy itself is not painful or awkward. During the procedure, a small, flexible tube containing a camera is inserted into your colon through your rectum. The camera is searching for polyps—growths on the tissue lining the colon. These polyps are not harmful initially, but if left undetected for 10-15 years, they can become cancerous. This is why colon cancer is difficult to detect in the early stages. Unless you have regular screenings and find the polyps early on, the cancer may be in a late and fatal stage at the time of diagnosis. If a polyp is discovered, it is immediately removed and tested to determine whether or not it’s cancer. Often times, the non-cancerous polyp is removed before it becomes harmful to you. This makes colonoscopies not only important procedures, but necessary life savers.
If you are over the age of 50 and have not had a colonoscopy screening, or you are at a greater risk for colon cancer, then contact us at Associates in Digestive Health to schedule your colonoscopy today. Let Colon Cancer Awareness Month remind you to take as many preventative measures as possible.