Your digestive system plays a critical role in processing nutrients and removing harmful toxins from your body. It’s composed of the large and small intestines, stomach, and esophagus.
The upper portion of the large intestine is referred to as the colon while the lower portions are known as the rectum and anal canal. Cancers of these areas of the body are sometimes referred to jointly colorectal cancers.
Overall, slightly more men than women are diagnosed with colorectal cancers but the lifetime risk is approximately 5% or 1-in-20 people.
Colon cancer occurs when damaged cells develop in colon tissues. These are called polyps and the majority start out benign (non-cancerous). Left untreated, these small clumps may turn cancerous. Several factors increase your chances of contracting colorectal cancers.
Risk Factors for Colon Cancer
- Age – approximately 90% of patients diagnosed are older than age 50
- Common hereditary diseases such as hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer and familial adenomatous polyposis
- Personal history of adenomatous polyps in the colon or colorectal cancer
- Immediate family history of colon cancer, polyps, or rectal cancer
- History of chronic inflammatory conditions such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn disease
- If you are diabetic or insulin resistant
- Alcohol and tobacco use
- If you are obese, you have a higher risk of contracting colon cancer – as well as a lower chance of survival
- Poor diet of high “bad” fats, high processed carbs, and low fiber
- Lack of exercise
The appearance and severity of symptoms depend on the location and size of the cancer mass. Many patients diagnosed with colon cancer do not experience symptoms at first. Early screening is the most important thing to remember when it comes to treating and beating colon cancer.
Symptoms of Colon Cancer
- Changes in bowel movements, such as constipation or diarrhea
- Bloody stool or bleeding from the rectum
- Unintended weight loss
- Cramps, bloating, and gas pains
- Feeling as if your bowel is never emptied
- Feelings of fatigue or overall weakness
Colorectal cancers are the third most often diagnosed form of cancer for both genders. It is also the secon highest form of cancer that results in death for both genders.
In 2014, experts estimate that more than 135,000 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed. Of those patients, more than 50,000 are not expected to survive.
This form of cancer is one that patients don’t like to discuss due to embarrassment (due to the area of the body) and fear of the tests done to confirm.
There is no reason to be embarrassed about feeling sick. Hopefully, you have a good relationship with your doctor and will admit to symptoms – no matter where or what they involve.
Common Tests for Colon Cancer
- Colonoscopy and Sigmoidoscopy: This is a procedure in which a tube-like device is inserted to view any abnormal cells. It is also used to take tissue samples. One of the big problems with these types of procedures is that they may actually increase cancer mortality. For instance, the Telemark Polyp Study I demonstrated a 157% increase in mortality among patients who had previously had a colonoscopy. In addition, removing polyps or even doing biopsies releases cancer cells into the bloodstream and the colon’s lumen. In turn, these cells may seed all other cancers throughout the body. An analysis of British data on colon cancer, by the watchdog group Straight Statistics, concluded that screening 1,000 patients for 10 years will prevent two deaths from the disease. Meanwhile, colonoscopies lead to “serious medical complications” in 5 out of every 1,000 patients, according to a 2006 report in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Given these risks, my guess is that a rigorous examination of colonoscopies will find that their benefits do not outweigh their downside. Lastly, the average age for colorectal cancer diagnosis is 72. Commencing invasive screening and polypectomies in asymptomatic people at age 50 is just as absurd as taking contraceptives after menopause.
- Rectal Exam: A gloved and lubricated finger is inserted to check for lumps.
- Fecal Occult Blood Test: Samples of the stool are taken from the patient for laboratory testing to determine if there is blood in the stool.
- Barium Enema: Barium is inserted into the lower intestine to coat all surfaces. Then X-rays are taken to determine the presence of cancer.
The chief issue that is typically overlooked is how to prevent (and even treat) colon cancer with certain foods. According to the NCI “Fact Sheet on Garlic and Cancer Prevention,” garlic consumption may reduce the risk of developing colon cancer. Protective effects from garlic may arise from its antibacterial properties or from its ability to block the formation and/or halt the activation of cancer-causing substances, enhance repair, reduce cell proliferation, or induce cell death (apoptosis). Garlic is high in the minerals sulfur and selenium as well as plant chemicals such as allicilin and flavonoids, all known to be beneficial to health.
Eating a rainbow of plant antioxidants is another strategy to prevent colon cancer. Foods and herbs like kale, avocado, carrots, blueberries, apricots, cantaloupe, grapes, oregano, ginger, rosemary, turmeric, cabbage, broccoli, and other fruits and vegetables help to decrease inflammation and oxidation while protecting against colon cancer.
Selenium rich foods like brazil nuts, salmon, sunflower seeds, mushrooms, garlic and onions have also been shown to inhibit the growth of cancer cells. Fish oil and other omega-3 oils (EPA and DHA) are very anti-inflammatory and can help prevent the proliferation of cancer cells throughout the body. Numerous studies have shown that several species of ginseng root decrease growth and proliferation of colon cancer cells, cause apoptosis, and act as potent protective anti-cancer anti-oxidant.