If you’re nearing the big 5-0, or that milestone birthday has come and gone, and you haven’t had a screening
colonoscopy yet, be sure to put it on the calendar.
During the “gold standard” test for colon and rectal cancer, your doctor will use a thin, flexible tube with a tiny video camera at the end to look inside your colon and rectum. A colonoscopy can simultaneously find and remove polyps — small growths that can turn into cancer over time — before they become a problem. It can also be used to treat various colonic problems and take biopsies if needed.
“The test itself is a breeze,” says Michael D’Astice, M.D., gastroenterologist and chairman of the gastroenterology department at LCMH.
If you prep for the test as instructed and don’t have any polyps, most people won’t have to repeat the test for at least 10 years. Otherwise, you may need to repeat your colonoscopy sooner. Even if cancer has developed, screening often allows it to be found early, when treatment is most likely to be successful.
A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
What else can you do to help protect yourself against colorectal cancer? There’s no sure way to prevent it, but you can make changes in your life that will help you control as many of the risks as you can. Having a healthy lifestyle may help to lower your risk for many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. This includes:
- BEING PHYSICALLY ACTIVE. Physical activity lowers the risk for colon cancer and many others. Spend less time sitting. Do at least 75 minutes of vigorous activity, like jogging, or 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, like brisk walking, each week.
- EATING LOTS OF FRUITS, VEGETABLES AND WHOLE GRAINS. Eating a diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains — especially those high in fiber — may help lower your colorectal cancer risk.
- LIMITING RED AND PROCESSED MEATS. This includes beef, sausage, hot dogs, lunch meats and bacon.
“When red or smoked meat gets broken down by the body, it generates chemicals that may harm the lining of the colon and increase the chances that a polyp may form,” says Michael Hurtuk, M.D., a fellowship-trained and board certified colorectal surgeon with LCM Medical Group. Instead, make chicken and fish a mainstay.
- STAYING AT A HEALTHY WEIGHT. Several studies have shown a link between extra body weight and an increased risk of colorectal cancer, as well as some other cancers.
- NOT SMOKING OR ABUSING ALCOHOL. Both smoking and heavy alcohol use can raise the risk of colorectal cancer. Not smoking, and drinking in moderation (if at all), may help lower your risk.
TALK WITH YOUR DOCTOR ABOUT SCREENINGS
Screening is even more important in people who are at increased risk. If you’re African American, schedule your first colonoscopy at age 45. If you have a family history of colon cancer or you have symptoms — such as constipation, weight loss, bleeding with bowel movements, or anemia — you should get a colonoscopy sooner.
“If an immediate family member, such as a mother or father, has been diagnosed with colon cancer, you should get a colonoscopy at least 10 years before your family member was diagnosed,” Dr. Hurtuk says.
Talk with your doctor about your risk for colorectal cancer, at what age you should start screening and which screening tests might be right for you.
Are you at high risk for colon cancer? Find out by taking our FREE online Colon Cancer Risk Test at www.tests.lcmcancercare.org.