Health Care Lifestyle

Protecting Your Colon Health

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It’s never too late to begin taking steps to protect yourself from colon cancer. Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in both men and women each year in the United States.

Even with the advancements in treatment, such as robotic-assisted surgery, it’s still smart to take steps to prevent colon cancer from developing in the first place. To do that, the best tool is a colonoscopy, which allows a doctor to find and remove small growths, called polyps, before they turn into cancer.

That’s one reason why AdventHealth experts are so passionate about advocating for screenings. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in 3 colorectal cancer cases were diagnosed at a localized stage (the cancer had not spread outside the colon or rectum) from 206 to 2020. Almost 4 in 10 colorectal cancers were found at a regional stage (the cancer had spread to nearby lymph nodes, tissues, or organs), and about 2 in 10 were found at a distant stage (the cancer had spread to distant parts of the body).

“Colon and rectal cancer are common and lethal cancers worldwide and one of the leading causes of cancer deaths in the United States,” said Hunter Meyer, MD, of AdventHealth Medical Group General Surgery at Calhoun. “Colonoscopies are crucial for both detection and treatment of colon polyps and colon cancer.”

When you hear a colonoscopy called the “gold standard,” that doesn’t just mean it’s a little better than other options. Often, it means the difference between catching cancer early or waiting until it has spread too far to treat effectively.

“Both incidence and mortality rates of colon cancer have decreased in the US, likely due to early screening and treatment with colonoscopy,” said Dr. Meyer. “Other screening tools exist to aid in detection, but no other modality allows for removal of polyps or biopsy of cancer at the time of detection.”

Take Preventive Measures Against Colon Cancer

AdventHealth’s CREATION Life philosophy emphasizes nutrition and physical activity as critical aspects of maintaining good health. This applies to colon cancer prevention, too. By working these simple steps into your everyday routine, you can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

  • Don't smoke
  • Eat a diet low in red and processed meats
  • Eat more veggies and fruits
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol intake
  • Maintain a healthy weight

“Other than performing routine colon screening, you can protect your colon health by maintaining a healthy lifestyle,” said Dr. Meyer. “Studies suggest that smoking increases not only colon cancer occurrence but also mortality from colon cancer. It is also important to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine, not only for colon health but for total body health.”

When to Get a Colonoscopy

The single best action you can take to prevent colon cancer is to get a colonoscopy, starting in your mid-40s depending on your risk factors.

“In general, patients at an average risk for colorectal cancer should undergo screening between the ages of 45 and 50,” said Dr. Meyer. “For patients considered high risk, which includes strong family history of colon cancer, presence inflammatory bowel disease or genetic syndromes, screening will likely be recommended at an earlier age.”

The interval of screening depends on a patient’s risk profile and can range from one year to 10 years. "Scheduling screenings depends on a patient’s risk profile, medical history, family risk factors and disease," said Dr. Meyer. "A patient might only need a colon screening every 10 years or as often as annually. That’s why it’s important to establish regular appointments with your primary care provider, so they can understand and advise you on how often to get screened."

Identify the Signs of Colon Cancer

While screening is the best way to prevent or spot colorectal cancer early, it’s important to stay vigilant for tell-tale signs of cancer. Symptoms can depend on the cancer’s size and location. Talk to your primary care provider if you experience:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in stool
  • Changes in bowel habits
  • Excessive gas
  • Narrow stool width
  • Unexplained weight loss

Reporting these symptoms early could mean the difference between spotting cancer when effective treatments exist or waiting until it’s too late.

We're Your Partner in Lowering Your Risk

At your next primary care provider visit, ask about when it might be time for a colonoscopy. Early detection is key to protecting your life and helping you stay healthy for years to come.

“Currently colon screening is our best tool for saving lives from colon and rectal cancer,” said Dr. Meyer. “I recommend a balanced, high-fiber diet and plenty of exercise, which is important not for just colon health, but also for whole body health.”

Talk With Your Doctor About Cancer Screenings

Cancer screening schedules are different for every individual. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have about cancer screening and prevention. Together, you can work to find the right screening schedule for you, so that you can stay healthy longer.

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