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Learn How to Prevent Colorectal Cancer

June 14, 2011

Washington Hospital Seminar Focuses on Screening and Diet

Colorectal cancer is probably something you don’t want to think about. But if you are over age 50 or at higher risk for the disease, you need to know how to prevent it. Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer death, according to the American Cancer Society. The good news is you can stop it before it even starts.

"Unlike other cancer screenings, which allow physicians to catch cancer early when it is more treatable, colorectal screenings can actually prevent colon cancer," said Dr. Annamalai Veerappan, a gastroenterologist and member of the Washington Hospital medical staff. "We are seeing a 90 percent reduction in the incidence of colorectal cancer as a result of early screening."

He will present "Colorectal Cancer and Healthy Diet to Prevent Cancer" on Tuesday, June 21, from 1 to 3 p.m. He will be joined by Lorie Roffelsen, a registered dietitian at Washington Hospital. The free seminar will be held at the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. You can register online at www.whhs.com or call (800) 963-7070 for more information.

Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. In most cases, colorectal cancer develops slowly over many years, according to Veerappan. Most cancers start as a polyp, a small growth of tissue, in the lining of the colon or rectum. Not all polyps will turn into cancer, he explained.

Detecting and Removing Polyps

Colorectal screenings, like the sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy, allow physicians to see inside the rectum and colon and find polyps that may be growing on the lining walls, Veerappan said. Removing a polyp early can prevent it from becoming cancerous.

"Removing precancerous polyps stops the cancer from ever developing," he said. "Colorectal screening is the most effective cancer screening there is."

He said adults over the age of 50 should get screened for colorectal cancer because your risk for getting the disease increases with age.

"You should start getting screened 10 years earlier if someone in your family was diagnosed with colorectal cancer at the age of 40," Veerappan added. "Those who are at higher risk for colorectal cancer should also get screened before age 50."

According to Veerappan, people at higher risk for colorectal cancer include those who have a family history of the disease, or have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis. Leading a sedentary lifestyle and eating a diet high in red or processed meats can also increase your chances of getting the disease. Symptoms include abdominal pain or tenderness, rectal bleeding, change in bowel habits, narrow stools, and unexplained weight loss.

"Usually by the time you have symptoms, the disease may have progressed," he said. "You don’t want to wait until you have symptoms. Get the screening when you turn 50. If you don’t have polyps, you can go another 10 years before getting screened again."

He said in addition to screening for preventing colorectal cancer, certain dietary and lifestyle changes can help to reduce your risk for developing the disease.

Eat Right and Stay Active

Roffelsen will talk about some of the lifestyle choices that can help to reduce your risk. She said eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables can help.

"Colorectal cancer is one of the cancers that is linked more directly to dietary and lifestyle factors," she said "I will encourage participants to eat a plant-based diet that is high in fiber and low in animal protein."

According to Roffelsen, studies have linked red meat, as well as processed meat products like hot dogs and some lunch meats, to an increased risk for colorectal cancer. She said fiber and other nutrients have been found to lower the risk.

"The thought is that fiber speeds the transit of food through the intestine," she explained. "If you eat potential carcinogens, fiber helps to decrease the exposure to your intestinal tract. On the other hand, animal proteins actually slow down digestion."

She said fruits and vegetables provide fiber, folic acid, selenium and other vitamins and minerals that help to lower your risk for colorectal cancer. A diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in animal fats also helps to maintain a healthy weight, which reduces your risk along with exercise.

"It’s good to know there are things you can do to lower your risk for colorectal cancer over your lifetime," Roffelsen said. "In addition to screening, there are choices you can make every day that will help to reduce your risk and improve your overall health."

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