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 Annual 2011

Annual 2011


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Combat Colon Cancer

Screening Is the Name of the Game

     Colon cancer screenings are a test most people don’t like to talk about and yet they have the potential to save your life.
     While colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in California, and the third most common cause of cancer-related deaths, it’s also
one of the most treatable and curable cancers if detected early.
     “With colon cancer screenings, we can identify non-cancerous colorectal polyps and remove them before they become cancerous,” says Dr. Cynthia Morton, a gastroenterologist at Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center. “We recommend that healthy patients ages 50 and over talk to their doctor about the screening choices available for this type of cancer.”
     Although many doctors use colonoscopies, a long flexible tube with a camera to visually inspect the colon, and sigmoidoscopies, a similar exam of the lower colon, other less invasive tests are also available.
     Morton says that doctors at Kaiser Permanente and other medical centers are using the Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) as a screening tool and hoping the ease of the test will help to improve colon cancer screening rates. The FIT is performed by patients at home and involves sending a tiny sample of stool in a special kit to a medical laboratory, which checks for microscopic signs of blood in the stool. The presence of blood can indicate one or more malignancy-prone polyps inside the colon or large bowel.
     “FITs look for human blood in the stool and are more effective at detecting cancers and polyps than the older and more widely used stool screening tests,” Morton says. “The FIT does need to be repeated annually whereas patients need to only undergo a colonoscopy once every 10 years.”
     When Kaiser Permanente began mailing FIT kits to its members who were due for a colon cancer screening, they saw screening rates soar well above the national average.
     Dr. Bang Nguyen, a research scientist with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California in Fremont, says among Americans ages 50 and older, only 18.7 percent had a fecal occult blood test, or FOBT, during the preceding year, and only 50.6 percent had a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy during the preceding 10 years.
    “The rates of colon cancer screening are even lower in underserved ethnic populations,” Nguyen says. “From my research, not having health insurance coverage is a major factor for not being screened for colon cancer.”
     Nguyen’s research has also shown that eating a healthy diet can decrease a person’s risk of developing colon cancer. A healthy diet should be low in fat and high in fruits and vegetables. Several studies have shown that diets heavy in red and processed meats and low in fruits, vegetables and grains are associated with a higher incidence of colon cancer. And an article featured in the Dec. 15, 2009, issue of the journal Cancer Research reveals a team of researchers at Children’s Hospital and Research Center Oakland has discovered compounds found in soy could help prevent and possibly treat colon cancer.
     Other risk factors for colon cancer include:
•     Family history. Genetics predisposes some to colon cancer, so if you have a family history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about your potential risk factors and whether you should undergo screening before the age of 50.
•     Race. The highest incidence and death rates of colon cancer are seen in African Americans. Many doctors recommend that African American men and women begin screening for colon cancer in their 40s.
•     Smoking. Evidence suggests that smoking increases the risk of colon cancer.
•     Lifestyle.
People who exercise regularly appear to have a decreased risk of colon cancer.

Get Help

■    Markstein Cancer Education and Prevention Services is the only center in Northern California to offer free colorectal cancer screenings to uninsured and underinsured individuals. For more information, call (510) 869-8833.
■    The Oakland-based California Colorectal Cancer Coalition offers information about colon cancer, clinical trials and more at www.cacoloncancer.org.


     East Bay dietitian Elaine Magee has written a book, Tell Me What to Eat to Prevent Colon Cancer to give readers a better understanding of what colon cancer is and foods that can help prevent it. Also included are dozens of healthful, practical, tasty recipes focusing on fiber, and power produce items that anyone can incorporate in their diet. The book is available at Barnes and Noble and www.recipedoctor.com.

     The National Cancer Institute offers a free online booklet about colon cancer risk, screening, treatments and questions to ask your doctor. Visit the Colon and Rectal Cancer link at www.cancer.gov or call (800) 422-6237.


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