Take steps to cut your colorectal cancer risk

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What makes individuals develop colorectal cancers? Who is more at risk? What can I do to diminish my lifetime risk of dying from colorectal cancer?

Much is learned from basic science, yet many more questions remain to be answered.

Perhaps the strongest risk indicators are inherited factors.

"The key to longevity is to pick ancestors that have lived long lives," I often say jokingly to my patients. Obviously, we cannot pick our genetic makeup and the only way to take precautions in families with multiple family members affected by colon or other cancers is to be vigilant and enroll in early, comprehensive screening programs.

Cancer centers such as the one at Providence St. Mary Medical Center possess the capabilities not only to assist patients with treatment options but also provide multiple specialists familiar with prevention and surveillance programs.

Let us now focus on some of the factors:

Obesity: Increased body fat doubles your chances of developing colorectal and other cancers.

Intake of animal fat: Excessive consumption of red meat raises your likelihood of facing cancers. Vitamins, fresh fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, provide a healthy environment for the bowel and are a powerful protection against cancers.

Many other interventions are more controversial. Taking aspirin may be the right step in preventing cancers, especially for patients who also suffer from heart disease, but this ought to be discussed with the family doctor in order to judge the benefits and risks.

Ensuring routine exercise, a consistently balanced diet and discussing one's individual risks with your physician are critical in the steps to protecting yourself from cancers.

However, I must stress that even the healthiest and most virtuous person can be vulnerable to a "bad disease" and should be aware of warning signs, such as blood in the stool, sudden change in stool caliber and consistency, unexplained weight loss or unclear abdominal pain and should consult with her/her family doctor to be evaluated. Once a cancer develops, only the timely diagnosis and efficient treatment by a team of doctors can make a difference.

Dr. Harald Schoeppner is a gastroenterologist at Providence St. Mary Medical Center.

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