March is Colorectal Cancer Month. It’s a month that few people knew about until the last few years when a major campaign began with the colorectal society showing the derrière on television. Boy did it work. People are finally starting to talk about the digestive tract and the intestines as a vital part of health.
My passion for the digestive tract did not only stem from my own health, but my mother’s digestive tract. We have a history of bowel disease on my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother has had colon cancer and survived, and my mother did have a sister who passed away shortly after birth due to bowel obstruction complications, something that today would not have happened due to modern medicine and surgical advances.
My mother’s digestive tract was a colon cancer risk from the beginning, looking at it as a doctor now and not as a child. She had IBS and diverticulum that frequently caused discomfort and bouts of diarrhea, cramping and gas. There were many foods she could not eat, but being a little stubborn she chose not to always avoid them and did go through pain with eating. Chronic inflammation beginning in her early 20’s, my mother’s digestive tract was something our whole family was aware of and impacted all of us.
Screening for colon cancer through colonoscopy however is something my mother avoided. The risks of screening and colon perforation were scary for her. Unfortunately, by the time she did get a screening, it was too late. Her cancer was at stage 4 and keeping the cancer at bay became the focus of the next 5 years. She fought hard.
Why share this story? I’m not trying to garner sympathy or make you depressed. The truth is often hard to hear. However, you should know that colon cancer can often be prevented. Conventional medicine and alternative medicine fully agree on this point. I am merging both conventional and alternative thoughts on this topic, for a quick guideline for you to keep in mind in prevention. Don’t be scared, be informed and take care of your health.
10 things you can do to prevent colon cancer
- Start paying attention to your bowel habits
- Start paying attention to other symptoms of digestion
- Stop smoking
- Cut out the dietary aggravating factors
- Eat a healthy diet
- Take some vitamin D3
- Get off the couch, and get moving
- Cut down on your alcohol consumption
- Get a fecal occult blood test
- Get a colonoscopy or genetic screening for risk factors
I know, it’s a little gross. How often do you go to the washroom? The norm is every day, a formed bowel movement not in pellets and not loose. If it’s less than once a day, that’s not normal. If it is more than 3 times daily, that isn’t either. Do you ever seen undigested food (aside from corn), blood or mucous?
Daily heartburn is not normal. Neither is gas that literally has everyone clearing the room around you – while we release at least 2 litres of gas daily, it should not be incredibly offensive or painful to release. What is your bowel like? Everyone’s has its own “behaviour”.
What about smoking is good for you? Additionally, there is a higher correlation (association) of developing colon cancer with smokers compared with non-smokers.
If you’re lactose intolerant, don’t eat dairy products. If spicy foods give you heartburn, don’t eat them. Don’t eat what makes you feel sick. To the digestive tract, that ongoing agitation with foods that are not right for the body create inflammation. Chronic inflammation alters cell structure and can contribute to the processes that set up cancer. It is not a direct correlation, but it is present regardless.
Fibrous foods consist of oats, psyllium, bran, flax… basically insoluble fibres that the body needs to keep the digestive tract eliminating and pulling feces out of the body. If you are constipated, the bowel isn’t going to be very happy, is it? Plus, insoluble fibres reduce cholesterol and are good for hormonal balance. A win-win. Vegetables and fruits contain these fibres, and also have antioxidants and cancer-fighting agents containing in them (quercetin, indole-3-carbinol) to name a few. Cut down on the consumption of red meat, which is pro-inflammation and is harder to digest and have the colon pass.
Vitamin D3 is colon-cancer preventing, especially in those that are genetically susceptible. It’s complicated, but it essential speaks to regulation of the immune system and of inflammation. Best to combine your vitamin D3 with vitamin K2 so you can help your bones and colon at the same time.
Physically inactive individuals are susceptible to colon cancer. Is this because the body retains more toxicity due to feces staying in the body longer? Is it because those who exercise have better health in general? It’s both. We do know that you need to move, as it is colon cancer prevention at its best.
High alcohol consumption (above 2 drinks/day for men, 1/day for women) has been linked with colorectal cancer due to a depletion of basic nutrients (B-vitamins and folic acid) as well as suppressing immunity (cancer is the “normal” response gone awry in healthy cells)
This is a sample of feces (poo) that checks for microscopic traces of blood in your stool. If it is present, it can speak to colon cancer that is present or other digestive disorders such as Crohn’s disease.
Often when your family history of polyps (benign growths in the colon) or colon cancer is high, you will need to get a colonoscopy to rule out the possibility, and/or screen for genetic markers that may be present in your family history. As with all procedures, there are small risks to a colonoscopy however not doing one may be more detrimental than doing the test.
What else can you do?
Should you feel so inclined, the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada is raising funds for research this month. Please go to the website and donate if you are not already supporting another association — the more we know, the better we can prevent.
Resources you should read on colon cancer: