Did you know this month is colon cancer awareness month? That the theme color is blue? No? Well likely you are not alone. Breast cancer month in October is unmistakable with all the pink ribbons and media focus. March, the month of colon cancer is strangely unheralded.
Part of this may be our societal shyness about the gut. The gut with its gurgles, gases, eructations, vomitus, flatus and olfactorily offensive offal is not usually spoken of in polite conversation. Yet colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. Fortunately, if detected early, it is also one of the most treatable of cancers.
Proper screening with colonoscopy, fecal occult blood testing and newer methods such as DNA evaluation of stool specimens, like the ColoGuard system, as well as virtual and capsule endoscopy are all tools for early detection and treatment. Family history of colon, breast or ovarian cancers increase one’s risk.
Are there things that we can do to prevent colon cancer? A number of nutritional approaches have been found to be helpful. High fiber in the diet from plant sources is clearly helpful. One scientist, Dr. Denis Burkitt, spent 24 years in Uganda and never saw a case of colon cancer. He concluded that the high percentage of whole plant foods the natives consumed was protective.
Cruciferous vegetables are protective against colon cancer. These include such favorites as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, collard, arugula and cabbage. Seeds, nuts and legumes provide phytates which bind iron in the gut and also target and attack cancer cells. The yellow pigment curcumin in turmeric is helpful in preventing colon cancer and even in reducing the growth of polyps. In India, where they eat a lot of this spice, the colon cancer rate is about 10 percent of that in the U.S. and curcumin may be part of the reason.
Another reason cancer rates in general in India are low is thought to be their high intake of beans, vegetables, whole grains, fruits and a low intake of meat. The excess iron in meat can stimulate oxidation and increase cancer risk. Processed meats are particularly risky. Other risk factors include obesity and sedentary lifestyle. Work stress and lack of autonomy on the job may increase risk of colon cancer. Oddly, a number of studies have found tallness in adults is associated with increased colorectal cancer risk, so I should be good.
Low dose aspirin has anti-inflammatory properties that reduce the growth of polyps. Calcium, dairy products, folate, vitamin D, and quercetin all may help to reduce risk. Keep your stool size bulky. A stool should be fluffy and float rather than a slinky sinker, which indicates inadequate fiber in the diet.
Summarizing how not to die from colon cancer:
1. Eat a plant forward diet with plenty of fiber;
2. Reduce both white and red meat intake, especially processed meats;
3. Consider supplements such as aspirin, calcium, vitamin D, folate, quercetin and curcumin; and
4. Get regular screenings as recommended by your doctor.