Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in America, with 49,920 deaths and 106,100 new cases diagnosed each year. Overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 9. Despite these grim statistics, the mortality rate has been decreasing for several decades due to advances in screening technology and the easy removal of polyps on the walls of the colon before they turn cancerous. The best way to prevent colon cancer is to get regular screening tests after 50 and live a healthy lifestyle, experts say. Today, there are over 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the U.S.
Before talking about colon cancer prevention, let’s talk a little about what colon cancer is, exactly. Both the colon and rectum are part of the digestive system. The first part of the digestive system, which is the esophagus and stomach, breaks down food to be processed into energy. Next, the broken down food travels to the small intestine/bowel, which is a narrow, 20-foot section that continues breaking down food and absorbing most of the nutrients. The small intestine then sends the remaining material to the five-foot-long colon (which is also referred to as “the large intestine”), where it absorbs salt and water and stores waste. The first part of the colon is the ascending colon, which is attached to the small intestine and the appendix on the right side of the abdomen. The transverse colon runs from the right to the left side of the upper abdomen. The descending colon travels downward on the left side and the sigmoid colon is an S-shaped portion that passes food matter down to the rectum, the final six inches of the digestive system, which will pass food out of the body through the anus. No one is really sure what exactly causes a colon cancer cell to develop in the first place, or why some experience a colon cancer recurrence, but research suggests a variety of lifestyle, hereditary and environmental factors are at play.
As you may have heard, screening tests are the best way to prevent colon cancer from developing. Medicare and insurance companies cover the annual fecal occult blood test and four-year sigmoidoscopy for those over 50 years of age. Additionally, Medicare will cover the colonoscopy procedure every two years for patients who are determined to be “high risk,” and every ten years for an average-risk patient. Some of these colon cancer screening procedures involve simple stool samples, while others involve a tube being inserted into the anus, rectum and colon to take a peek at any colon polyps that may be forming. While it may sound terribly uncomfortable, the colonoscopy is one of the most effective ways to identify trouble spots. Other minimally invasive tests may include x-rays, such as the virtual colonoscopy and the double-contrast barium enema.
Lastly, lifestyle changes are an important way to prevent colon cancer. It goes without saying that smoking, inactivity and excessive alcohol consumption are contributors to many types of adverse health conditions. Colon cancer prevention involves eating the right foods, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets, onions, potatoes, broccoli, artichokes, celery, beans, peas, whole grain products, berries, cantaloupes, mangoes, mangosteen, persimmons and dried apricots, etc. Limit the amount of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs, luncheon meats), cooking meats at very high temperatures (frying, broiling and grilling) and saturated fats. Mangsteen are rich in xanthones and have shown many times to cure cancer.