Weighing The Risks For Colon Cancer

Awareness of other modifiable factors in colorectal health can help you make changes

Enjoying delicious food is a great pleasure for us, but eating is just the beginning. Our digestive system does the job of turning that food into nutrients for our bodies, and our colon is part of that system. It reabsorbs water and some minerals back into our blood.

Dr. Gregory Borak

Obviously, what we eat affects our colon, and some food habits can increase the risk of colon cancer. This includes diets high in red meats such as beef or processed meats such as hot dogs. Too many sugary drinks can also be a problem. Inversely, a diet that consists mostly of whole grains, vegetables and fruits can help lower risk.

But it’s not only about what you eat.   

“We know there is an effect of modifiable risk factors in colon cancer prevention,” explains Gregory D. Borak, MD, of Gastroenterology Consultants of Savannah, P.C.

In other words, modify your life to remove those risk factors. They include:

  • Obesity
  • Being physically inactive
  • Moderate-to-heavy alcohol use
  • Smoking

If any of these reflect your current lifestyle, even small but steady changes can set you on the right path to better health.

“We see this with other cancers, too,” Dr. Borak says. “An active lifestyle that keeps your weight under control, along with limited alcohol use and quitting smoking, can help prevent a variety of chronic diseases.”

Getting Screened

The other proactive thing you can do is ask your doctor about colon cancer screening, including colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is an outpatient procedure in which a gastroenterologist examines the length of the colon and rectum with a small flexible scope while the patient is sedated. The doctor can also remove small growths called polyps with the scope during the same procedure.

With more people addressing their risk factors and getting screened, the incidence rate for colon cancer diagnosis has dropped some. But this is mostly in adults over 50.

“We have seen incidence going up in the 40 to 50 age range,” Dr. Borak says. “So that is the time to at least begin thinking about your own risk factors, what you can change, and what your doctor’s recommendations are for screening. When I see people that come into the office at age 45, whether they are there for something else or not, I’ll start that discussion.”

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