Colon cancer begins in the large intestine, or colon, with a small polyp. Over time, some polyps can become cancer, which is why preventative measures to screen for colon cancer are important. Colorectal cancer is second only to lung and bronchial cancers in cancer-related deaths, claiming around 50,000 lives each year according to the American Cancer Society. “We are seeing increasing rates, especially in this country, and at a younger age. There are many reasons for that, including obesity, sedentary lifestyle, high consumption of red meat and low intake of fiber,” said Dr. Mahdi M. Budayr, board-certified and fellowship-trained colorectal surgeon with Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Surgery.
Colon cancer symptoms can include blood in the stool, changes in bowel habits, weight loss, abdominal pain or discomfort, and fatigue. Screening and finding at early stages can reduce the risks and complications of colon cancer. “Not having a family history of colon cancer doesn’t mean you won’t get it either, so screening is highly encouraged. This type of cancer is nearly 100 percent preventable, excluding genetic factors,” Budayr added.
Preventative screening options include Cologuard, colonoscopies and hemoccult tests that detect blood in stool. Some patients opt for Cologuard because they are embarrassed or don’t want to go through the hassle of getting a colonoscopy. “While getting a colonoscopy can be annoying and you have to take time off work, having colon cancer can be life-altering and life-threatening. Cologuard is a good screening tool for someone who can’t have surgery or a colonoscopy, but with a colonoscopy, if we find a polyp, we can take it out right then. Cologuard can’t do that, so in that regard, colonoscopies are the gold standard for finding and excising the possible cancer,” Budayr said. If there are medical reasons excluding you from a colonoscopy, screening with Cologuard is a great option. Always discuss screening options and what would work best for you with your primary care physician.
As it turns out, diet is a very important factor in preventing colon cancer. Taking measures to restrict red meat, increase fiber intake, and eating more fruits and vegetables can make a big difference. In addition, exercising and maintain a healthy weight helps. Limit alcohol, and if you’re a smoker, stop smoking. These diet and lifestyle changes have been shown to make a big difference in the development of polyps and colon cancer. “Following more of a Mediterranean diet and getting screened when recommended can help prevent catastrophic colorectal cancers,” Budayr said. If you can’t get enough fiber from your food, a fiber supplement is recommended.
If a screening shows an issue and there is evidence of colon cancer, surgery may correct the problem. In advanced stages, chemotherapy and radiation may also be necessary. Treatment is determined based on the stage and placement of the cancer.
For more information about surgical options for colorectal cancer, call Blount Memorial Physicians Group – Surgery at 865-238-6430.