PREVENTING COLORECTAL CANCER
The most encouraging fact about colorectal cancer is that you can actually reduce your risk of ever developing it, or of having a recurrence. On the other hand, it is important to remember that even after treatement, you are not immune: you remain at risk for a new tumor.
There is some evidence, but no solid data, that certain dietary changes and physical exercise can play an important role in decreasing recurrence.
When your treatment is complete, take advantage of the “learning moment” to adopt lifestyle practices that could improve your well-being in general, and decrease your risk of recurrence.
The most important preventive tool available is regular screening. Screening makes it possible to find and remove polyps before they have a chance to turn into cancer. Do not shortchange yourself on this potentially life-saving procedure.
Recommendations for Your Family Members
Only about 20% of colorectal cancer is transmitted genetically, like the color of your eyes or hair. Most cases of colorectal cancer are not linked to family history. If you had colorectal cancer or polyps were found on a colonoscopy, inform your family members of your diagnosis, and suggest that they be particularly thorough in practicing early detection.
Steven Condron, MD, FACS, MHES – “…we can identify things early.”
Colorectal Cancer Screening There are several tests that can be used, alone or in combination, to detect the early signs of colorectal cancer. You are probably already familiar with these, but your relatives may not be. Impress upon them that the best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to find it early. Some of the more common tests include:
• Tests that detect tiny amounts of blood in the stool.
A special test, called fecal occult blood test (FOBT), can detect extremely small amounts of blood, and act as a warning. The doctor will provide you with a kit to collect a stool sample that you will send to the laboratory.
The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is a newer test that also detects occult blood in the stool. Some people may find it easier to use because there are no drug or dietary restrictions (vitamins or foods do not affect the FIT) and sample collection may take less effort.
FOBT and FIT may not detect a tumor that is not bleeding, so multiple stool samples should be tested.
• Tests that use x-rays to examine the lining of the bowel.
The colon lining can be examined with one of two x-ray procedures. One is called a barium enema. The colon is filled with a substance that blocks x-rays, and outlines abnormal structures like polyps.
The other is CT colonography, also called virtual colonoscopy, where a CT scan and sophisticated software yield an image almost as clear as if the colon lining were being examined visually.
The preparation or “prep” for either procedure may include a liquid diet for two days before the procedure, laxatives the night before, and an enema the morning of the exam. The drawback to either procedure is that if something is found, you may still need to have a colonoscopy.
• Tests that use flexible tubes that are inserted into the colon.
The lining of the bowel can be examined directly with special flexible optical tubes equipped with a light source. The procedure require that the bowel be as clean as possible. The bowel preparation, or “prep” may include two days of liquid diet and cleansing with laxatives, and an enema the morning of the exam.
Medications may be used for sedation during the procedure. Abnormal changes can be biopsied and examined for cancer. If a polyp is found, the physician can remove it.
In the opinion of many experts, the best weapon against colorectal cancer is colonoscopy because this procedure enables a physician not only to detect a polyp if one is present, but also to remove it at the same time.
Whether you and your physician decide to use test for occult blood, x-rays, CT colonography or colonoscopy, there is one thing to remember: Any test is better than no test. Early detection is your best protection!