Colorectal Cancer is preventable and often curable, if caught early.
The two most important things to remember about colorectal cancer are 1) if caught early, it is curable, and 2) it is preventable in many cases.
That’s why I make a point of emphasizing to my patients the need to address lifestyle issues – such as unhealthy diet and obesity – that can lead to the development of colorectal cancer, as well as the critical importance of undergoing regular screenings, including a colonoscopy.
According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the US. In 2021, the ACS estimates there will be about 52,980 deaths from the disease. However, improvements in treatments and, especially, increased use of colonoscopy screening for colorectal cancer have resulted in a significant drop in the mortality rate for this disease over the last several decades.
Below are are some key takeaways about screening and lifestyle issues to help you reduce your risk of developing the disease.
The Importance of Regular Screening
The primary screening test for colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy. According to the latest guidance, most people should have their first colonoscopy when they reach 45 years of age.
For many years, it was recommended that people get screened for colorectal cancer beginning at the age of 50. (African Americans, who are at greater risk for developing the disease, were recommended to start getting tested at 45.) Recently, the guidance was changed. Now, because the incidence of colorectal cancer has been increasing among 45-to-49-year-olds, the recommendation is that everyone should begin being screened at 45.
It’s important to remember that a colonoscopy is not just an effective screening tool for colorectal cancer – it’s also a preventive procedure. During a colonoscopy, physicians can find and remove polyps when they are in their precancerous stages, including larger polyps which are more likely to become cancerous.
It’s also important to remember that early colorectal cancer often has no symptoms, which is another reason why screening is so critical. And don’t delay taking care of your health during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve put in place effective precautions at our facilities to keep you safe. These include pre-screening patients for potential COVID exposure, limiting the number of patients in waiting areas, thoroughly cleaning surfaces and equipment between appointments, and requiring patients undergoing a procedure to have a negative COVID-19 test beforehand.
Tips for Good Overall Gastrointestinal Health
Screening is just one preventive measure you can take against colorectal cancer. Here are some tips for how to improve your overall gastrointestinal health and, in some cases, potentially protect yourself from developing colorectal cancer.
Eat a high-fiber diet, including lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
Eating a healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables and whole grains and avoiding fatty and processed foods has been shown to lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer. High-fiber foods help you avoid becoming constipated, which is important for your gut health. I encourage my patients to take fiber supplements like Metamucil or Citrucel if they’re not getting enough fiber in their diet. And remember to stay hydrated!
Get regular exercise.
Staying active and exercising regularly may also help to decrease your risk. Exercise speeds up the movement of your food through your body, reduces the incidence of constipation, and helps keep your gastrointestinal system healthy.
Lose those extra pounds.
Being overweight or obese adds to your chances of getting colorectal cancer. A healthy diet and regular exercise are key to reaching and maintaining your desired body weight. The ideal body mass index is between 18.5 and 24.9.
Long-term smokers are at higher risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer than non-smokers. If you smoke and want to quit, see the American Cancer Society guide to quitting tobacco.
Managing your stress levels is very important for maintaining good gastrointestinal system health. Mental health issues play a key role in many gastrointestinal issues and stress can affect your digestive system in many ways, causing diarrhea, nausea, abdominal pain and other conditions.
Get a good night’s rest!
It’s a fact: Sleeping regular hours can help your gastrointestinal tract function more effectively.
Some of these lifestyle habits are easier to change than others but all are important in helping you maintain a healthy gastrointestinal system!