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Early detection of colorectal cancer

Dr. Eric Haas, colorectal surgeon, The Methodist Hospital, Houston

A colonoscopy is one of the most effective ways to screen for colorectal cancers. Men and women who have a family history of these cancers should get their first colon cancer screening at age 40. If there is no family history of colorectal cancers, it is recommended people first be screened at 50 and every 10 years after that.

More than 140,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer annually. If caught early, colorectal cancer is one of the most curable. Some common symptoms of colon cancer include blood in the stool, changes in bowel habits and abdominal pain. Many patients do not have symptoms until the cancer is more advanced, so it is important to undergo a screening colonoscopy regularly, even if there are no symptoms.

Linking diet and colorectal cancer

Kari Kooi, registered dietician, The Methodist Hospital, Houston

Lifestyle choices can lower your risk of colorectal cancer, particularly diet and physical activity.  Below are ways to help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

  • Increase the intensity and frequency of physical activity. Every activity counts – even house chores and yard work. Try to exercise 30 to 60 minutes each day; both cardiovascular and strength-building activities are beneficial.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables. Make fruits or vegetables half of every meal. Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower are preventive powerhouse foods with a wealth of cancer-fighting antioxidants. This crunchy group of vegetables contains a group of sulfur-containing plant compounds called glucosinolates, which are responsible for their overpowering smells when cooked.  Glucosinolates break down into detoxifying compounds that can help prevent cancer.
  • Avoid foods that irritate the colon. Some common culprits of irritated bowels are coffee, tea, carbonated drinks, milk products, tomatoes, chocolates, citric fruits, cheese, alcohol and spicy foods.
  • Limit intake of red and processed meats: Try to limit your intake of meats such as beef, pork, lamb, bacon, sausage and deli meats. If you do eat red meat, be mindful of your portions (how much should you limit) and choose lean cuts. When preparing meat, try baking, broiling or poaching rather than frying. Consider replacing red meat with venison.

Coffee may reduce the risk of colon cancer

Dr. Eamonn Quigley, chief, division of gastroenterology and hepatology

A recent study suggests that drinking coffee may reduce the risk for colon cancer. Researchers analyzed data on 500,000 individuals over an average of ten years. The study assessed the relationship between coffee consumption and colon and rectal cancer.

In the study, participants who drank an average of four to five cups of coffee a day had a 15 to 25 percent reduced chance of developing colon cancer. It did not seem to matter whether the coffee was caffeinated or decaf. Tea, on the other hand, seemed to have no impact on colon cancer risk.