Take steps to prevent colorectal cancer

March 10, 2003|by Christine L. Moats

Q: What is colorectal cancer?

A: Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. It is a disease in which cells in the colon - the part of the body's digestive system that removes nutrients from food and water - or rectum become abnormal and divide without control or order, forming a mass called a tumor. Cancer cells invade and destroy the tissue around them. Cells can also break away from the tumor and spread to form new tumors in other parts of the body.

The following are at risk for colorectal cancer:

  • Men and women older than 50

  • Those who have a personal or family history of polyps

  • Anyone who has a history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease

  • African-Americans, who seem to have a lower survival rate than other races, even though the incidence of colorectal cancer appears to be the same among all racial groups

The following can be done to help prevent colorectal cancer:

  • Know your family history

  • See your doctor for yearly screenings if you are age 50 or older

  • Maintain a diet low in animal fat and high in fruits, vegetables and fiber

  • Exercise regularly

  • Prevent obesity

  • Avoid cigarette smoking

If detected early, colorectal cancer is curable and the individual has a 90-percent chance of survival. Colorectal cancer screenings are safe and effective and are now covered by Medicare and many other health providers.

Several screening methods can be used to detect polyps before they become cancerous. These include a fecal occult blood test, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy and barium x-ray. These tests can also detect cancer in its early stages.


Christine L. Moats is a wellness coordinator at Washington County Hospital.

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