Like many other diseases, when it comes to colorectal cancer prevention, early detection is the key. At least six out of every 10 deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone over the age of 50 was screened regularly.
"It's a very simply concept – one can have precancerous polyps in the colon for years, with no symptoms, before invasive cancer develops. Colorectal cancer screening can find these precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer, thus preventing colorectal cancer," explains Christy L. Dibble, DO, director of the Center for Women's Gastrointestinal Diseases at Women & Infants Hospital.
"Screening can also find colorectal cancer early when there is a better chance that we can treat it effectively."
Screening consists of a test called a colonoscopy, in which a gastrointestinal specialist inserts a scope into your rectum and colon to look for polyps or other signs of trouble.
"The five-year survival rate for early-stage colorectal cancer is 90% if we find the disease when it localized. If it has spread to other organs, the survival rate drops to 10%. That's a tremendous difference!" Dr. Dibble notes. "Researchers estimate that for every 10% increase in the number of people being screened, 1,900 deaths are prevented."
Although age and family history are risk factors for colorectal cancer that you cannot control, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Exercise regularly – sedentary people are about twice as likely to develop colorectal cancer
- Maintain a healthy weight – being overweight increases your risk of colorectal cancer no matter how active you are
- Eat less red meat – during digestion, red and processed meats form carcinogenic chemicals which increases the colorectal cancer risk to 22% higher for people who eat 5 ounces of red and processed meats a day
- Eat more vegetables, fruits and fiber – data from the U.S. Polyp Prevention Trial looked at the impact of diet on 1,900 people with a history of precancerous polyps, finding that those who cut fat and ate at least 18 grams of fiber and 3.5 services of fruit and vegetables per 1,000 calories each day were 35% less likely to develop new polyps during the study
- Limit alcohol – people who drink two to four drinks a day have a 23% higher risk than those who average less than one drink per day
- Quit smoking – research directly links cigarette smoking to colorectal cancer, affecting women more often than men, according to a study in the journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences.
Of course, the most important step you can take to maintain your colorectal health is to have regular screenings. Women & Infants Center for Women's Gastrointestinal Health is the only facility in the region with an all-female environment in the doctor's offices as well as the endoscopy unit. For more information, call (401) 453-7953, or go to Center for Women's Gastrointestinal Health
Endoscopy services are also available for men and women at Kent Hospital. Call (401) 737-9950 for help.