MONMOUTH COUNTY - This year, the American Cancer Society expects over 97,000 new cases of colon cancer and over 43,000 new cases of rectal cancer to be diagnosed. A cancer diagnosis is life changing for patients and their families, but the good news is, there are steps individuals can take to reduce their risk for developing colorectal cancer. As we wrap up Colorectal Cancer Awareness month, this is a perfect opportunity for individuals to evaluate their risk factors for developing colon cancer and identify ways in which they can lower their risk.
Many lifestyle-related factors have been linked to colorectal cancer. Diet, exercise level and weight all are controllable risk factors of colorectal cancer. Some recent studies show that inflammatory foods are associated with a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
“A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains promotes a healthy colon, while consumption of what are commonly called inflammatory foods, such as red meats, charred and processed meats, sugary drinks and refined flour can be harmful and should be limited,” said Michael Arvanitis, M.D., FACS, section chief of colon and rectal surgery at Monmouth Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility.
Other lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer and to promote overall wellness and colon health include:
Exercising at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week
Maintaining a healthy weight with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18-25
Limiting alcohol consumption
Stopping smoking and / or using tobacco
“When caught at an early stage, colorectal cancer is a highly treatable disease,” added Dr. Arvnanitis. “Getting screened is strongly recommended because those who are diagnosed at an early stage have over a 90 percent survival rate. Unfortunately, it is more common for patients to wait until the disease has spread and they’ve noticed symptoms to seek help, lowering their potential survival rate.”
While a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce the risk of developing genetics still play a major role.
“Colon cancer can often be caused by genetic factors, or mutated genes that are inherited from our ancestors and immediate family members,” said Roy M. Dressner, D.O., FACS, colon and rectal surgeon at Monmouth Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility.
Genetic testing may provide peace of mind to those with a history of family illness and can eliminate the need for unnecessary checkups. It can also help to identify diseases an individual may be at risk for developing based on genetic factors. Genetic testing identifies changes in chromosomes, genes or proteins and the results can confirm or eliminate a suspected genetic condition and determine an individual’s risk of developing a genetic disorder or disease such as colon cancer.
“For individuals with high colorectal cancer risk factors – such as a strong family history of colorectal cancer, a personal history of colorectal cancer, or polyps or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, screening should begin at an earlier age and they should be screened more often,” said Dr. Dressner.
“Earlier screenings will result in earlier detection and better outcomes,” Dr. Dressner added. “Most colorectal cancers develop silently and by the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown or spread to other organs, which may make treating it harder.”
Adults should talk to their family and doctors to determine their family history, but they should also know the following warning signs and symptoms:
A change in bowel habits that lasts for more than a few days, including diarrhea, constipation, or a sensation that your bowel is still not empty after a bowel movement
Bright red or very dark blood in your stool
Stools that are thinner than usual
Stools that appear slimy or that have a mucous film on them
Persistent gas pains, bloating, fullness, or cramps
Unexplained weight loss
If you experience any of the above symptoms, tell your health care provider and get prompt medical attention.
For more information about colorectal cancer screenings and colorectal surgery or to find a physician, please visit rwjbh.org/colonscreening.