Ask a woman in menopause if she’s had a mammogram and she’ll likely say, “Yes.” But ask that same woman if she’s had a colonoscopy and the answer is often, “No.” March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month and Iím hoping the answer to the colonoscopy question will change because women in perimenopause and menopause are more likely to die of colon cancer than breast cancer. That’s right – more women die from colon cancer that from breast cancer and HIV combined.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer worldwide and the second leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, second only to lung cancer. But it doesnít have to be that way Ė one American dying every 9.3 minutes.
The secret I’m sharing with you now is to catch it before it turns into cancer. Colorectal cancer can be completely prevented if it is caught early. A study in the February 23, 2012 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine (Zauber AG and others, NEJM 2012;366:687-96) showed that people who have a colonoscopy are 53 percent less likely to die from colon cancer over the next 15+ years than people who just have a test for hidden blood in stool. So getting both an annual screening for hidden blood in your stool and a routine colonoscopy after age 50 and repeat it as often as recommended by your doctor could save your life or the life of a loved one.
Over 90 percent of people diagnosed with colon cancer are over 50. Research has shown that 1 in 4 people over age 50 have polyps. Polyps are the cancer precursors that typically become colon cancer. The colonoscopy not only finds polyps, it removes them before they turn into cancer.
Many people avoid a colonoscopy because they think it will be painful. But studies also show that the colonoscopy is not as uncomfortable as people think it will be. I had one; it was not bad at all. If you are 50+ and havenít had one, you can do better than that. Get a colonoscopy this year.
Next: 9 tips to prevent colon cancer
Here are 9 additional tips to help you prevent colon cancer.
1. Eat a balanced diet.
Fruits and vegetables lower your risk of colon cancer as does a high fiber diet. Animal fats like red meat increase your risk of colon cancer. A new study shows whole grains such as barley, buckwheat, quinoa and whole wheat lower your risk.
2. Watch your weight.
Although obese men are at more risk for colon cancer than obese women, being obese increases the colon cancer risk for everyone. The shape of your body also matters; a person with a thicker waist (apple shape) has a higher rate of colon cancer risk than a person with extra fat in her thighs or hips (pear shaped).
3. Stay active.
Exercising reduces colon cancer risk by as much as 40 percent. Of course, exercise also reduces your risk of other risk factors for colon cancer, like obesity and diabetes.
4. Know your genetic risk.
Some people have an increased risk of colon cancer due to genetic mutations. So do people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. Talk with your doctor about genetic counseling.
5. Find out your family medical history.
Iíve talked about this in my Health Accelerator video series. Knowing your family medical history can save your life. A family history of stomach, liver, and bone cancer may also put you at increased risk for colon cancer.
6. Discuss your personal medical history.
Time with the doctor is often limited, but be sure to discuss your personal medical history. Believe me, your doctor wants and needs to know your medical history, so tell him or her. Make sure they know if you have a history of polyps, certain cancers, or chronic inflammation of the bowel, all of which increase your colon cancer risk.
7. Donít smoke.
You know smoking increases your risk of lung cancer. Itís also a risk factor for colon cancer. Tobacco smoke thatís inhaled or swallowed carries carcinogens to the colon. Studies suggest that tobacco increases polyp size. One more reason not to smoke.
8. Reduce radiation exposure.
The world we live in is full of low amounts of radiation coming from the soil, radon, electronics and airplane travel. Medical x-rays like dental, mammograms and chest x-rays have fairly low radiation but others like a barium enema or a CT scan are higher. Although radiation from airport scanners is supposed to be low, I travel a lot and insist on getting pat downs instead of going through the scanners. Time will tell if this is necessary or not. But for now, Iím skipping the airport scanners.
9. See your doctor if you have thin stools, cramping, unexplained weight loss, or bloody stools.
In honor of Colon Cancer Awareness Month, Iíd like to offer all of you a free musical colon cancer prevention StayWellCardģ to send to your friend or family member 50 or over. Itís a nice way to say, ďGet a light at the end of your tunnel.Ē Entering your name and email will give you instant access. Make a difference; send a reminder.