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Talk to your doctor about any fears you may have about getting a colonoscopy. Chances are he or she can alleviate them.

We carry around about 20-25 feet of it every minute of our lives and, yet, until something goes wrong we are oblivious to it. Yep, we’re talking about the colon, or lower bowl. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a designation that aims to draw attention to a crucial part of the body’s digestive system. About 150,000 cases of colon cancers are diagnosed in the U.S. annually, about 50,000 of which are fatal. We asked Dr. Giancarlo Mercogliano, the chief of gastroenterology for Philly's Main Line Health System, for his tips on avoiding those statistics.

Maintain a healthy weight
“Being overweight is linked to colon cancer," Dr. Mercogliano says. "We are not sure of a direct link or whether that’s because an overweight person has an unhealthy diet and eats the wrong things. But keeping weight in check is important.”

 

Eat less meat
"The Western high-fat, high-meat diet is linked with colon cancer. In Africa, where many people eat a mostly vegetarian diet, there is less incidence of colon cancer. In Asia, too, where less meat is eaten, there is less incidence.”

Limit your alcohol intake
“Moderate drinking might be healthy — that’s small, specified doses. While drinking a glass of red wine has been shown to be healthy, the normal amounts [that people drink] is not.”

Take your vitamins
“Vitamin D, calcium and folic acid have been shown quite clearly to prevent colon cancer. Aspirin too: The data is conflicting, but in a study, aspirin seemed to shrink polyps, which are thought to be precancerous.”

Quit smoking, get moving
“Smokingpromotes all cancers and that includes colon cancer. Also, exercise that benefits the whole body benefits the colon."

Get a colonoscopy
“Colon cancer is the third leading cancer killer among both men and women,” says Dr. David Robbins, a gastroenterologist at the Manhattan Endoscopy Center. “It will affect one in twenty Americans. It can be detected at a very early stage with a brief, painless test called a colonoscopy. Catching colon cancer early gives doctors an excellent shot at curing this often-preventable cancer.” The American Cancer Society recommends men and women begin colonoscopy screening at age 50. But people at greater risk from hereditary or ethnic factors — such as people with a family history and African Americans — begin at age 45, or younger. “Most insurance covers colonoscopy screening at age 50, says Dr. Robbins. “If you are 65 or older, colonoscopy is covered by Medicare.” And don't worry about any pain: You're under anesthesia for the procedure, so you won't feel a thing.

Colon cancer: One young woman's cause
“When I was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer at 28, I didn’t react “normally” — I wasn’t mad, sad or scared," says Gloria Borges, a Stave IV colon cancer fighter and founder of The Wunder Project. "Instead, I made it a challenge, and despite the odds, I was ready to beat cancer. I started a blog detailing my cancer-killing adventures, and with support, I founded a colon cancer non-profit. My focus now is finding the cure through The Wunder Project (www.thewunderproject.org), a methodical and cutting-edge research initiative led by myself and my world-renowned oncologist. It will start with raising $250M and will end with the cure for colon cancer. Now at 31, I’m on my 45th round of chemo and living with this disease that kills 50,000 of my fellow fighters each year. The Wunder Project’s goals are ambitious, that I know, but I am ready to lead and find the cure for us all.”

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