A small number of cancers including colon, melanoma, breast and ovary tend to occur more often in some families than in the rest of the population. It is not clear if the pattern of cancer in families is due to heredity or factors in the family's environment. If close relatives have been diagnosed as having cancer, it is important to inform a doctor.
Nonetheless, it’s up to all of us to take an active role in the early detection of colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer rates have started to decline in recent years, but the malignancy remains the third most common cancer diagnosis in the United States and the second biggest cancer killer overall, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). As with most other forms of cancer, early detection is key. In fact, according to the ACS, 90 percent of patients with localized colorectal cancer will survive five years after diagnosis; however, if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, five-year survival plummets to only 10 percent.
Colon cancer is one of the most common, yet preventable cancers. To help lessen the chances of getting colon cancer, the following prevention guidelines are suggested:
- If you are 50 or older, schedule a colon cancer screening. Over 90 percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer are 50 or older and the average age of diagnosis is 64. Research indicates that by age 50, one in four people has polyps. Getting screened is an excellent colon cancer prevention method.
- Eat a balanced diet. Diets high in fat and cholesterol (especially from animal sources) have been linked to increased colon cancer risk. On the other hand, high-fiber diets have shown a protective effect.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Interestingly enough, obese men seem to be more at risk for colon cancer than obese women. In addition, certain body types seem to influence risk more than others. For example, studies indicate that extra fat in the waist increases colon cancer risk more than extra fat in the thighs or hips.
- Maintain an active lifestyle. Research indicates that exercising can reduce colon cancer risk by as much as 40 percent. What’s more, exercise tends to reduce the incidence of other risk factors for colon cancer, like obesity and diabetes.
- Learn your family medical history. Knowing your family medical history can impact the chances of whether or not you develop colon cancer. When discussing colon cancer prevention with your doctor, it is important to remember to mention any family members who have had polyps or colon cancer.
- Don't smoke. Yes, smoking is a risk factor for colon cancer, as well. Smoking increases the risk for two main reasons. First, inhaled or swallowed tobacco smoke transports carcinogens to the colon. Second, tobacco use appears to increase polyp size.