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Prevent Colon Cancer

By Philip S. Chua, M.D., FACS, FPCSBy Philip S. Chua, M.D., FACS, FPCS
‘Blood in the stools is one of the earliest signs of colon cancer.’
IT was 3:13 p.m. on February 11, 2009, when CBS World News bannered this headline, “Philippines Icon Corazon Aquino Has Cancer,” followed by this report:
“Former Philippine President Corazon Aquino, who sparked a wave of pro-democracy movements around the world by leading a 1986 ‘people power’ revolt, has colon cancer, her daughter said Monday.
“Aquino, 75, was swept into power by the peaceful uprising that ousted late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, cementing her as an icon of democracy.
“Usually dressed in her trademark yellow in public, she has remained active in social and political causes. Most recently, she has been attending rallies calling for the resignation of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“Kris Aquino, her voice breaking as she fought back tears, read a statement on live television that said her mother had gone in for tests after suffering from high blood pressure, difficulty breathing and fever during the Christmas and New Year holidays, then a persistent cough, loss of appetite and weight loss.”

Colon cancer is a preventable disease. Had Cory’s colon cancer been detected earlier, she would still have been alive today, and the history of the Philippines would have been different.

*What is colon cancer?*
Colon (large intestines) and rectum (reservoir for feces) are the terminal parts of the digestive system. Cancer of the colon and rectum, or colo-rectal cancer, is the rapid uncontrolled growth of abnormal and very aggressive cells that multiply without order, causing a tumor that is malignant and tends to destroy organs around it. The cancerous cells travel (metastasize) through the blood and lymph channels to distant parts of the body, like the liver, bones, brain, etc., ultimately killing its victim.

*How prevalent is colon cancer?*
Colorectal cancer ranks the second most leading cancer deaths (51,370 a year) for both men and women in the USA, with about 142,570 patients diagnosed annually. It claims more lives than AIDS and breast cancer combined. In the Philippines, at least 8,000 new cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed yearly, “and steadily increasing,” according to the Philippine Cancer Society.

*How does it usually start?*
Colon cancer usually begins as a polyp, a tonsil-like growth on the inner wall of the colon, which is pre-cancerous (not malignant), but over the years they can become cancerous. They are easily visible by colonoscopy. Majority (more than 95 percent) of colo-rectal cancers are adenocarcinoma, cancer of the gland cells on the surface of he inner wall of the colon/rectum.

*Does genetics play a role in colorectal cancer?*
To some degree yes, but there is really a low genetic predisposition to cancer of the large intestine. Exception to this is seen in “cancer-families” and “colon cancer-families,” where colorectal cancer victimizes family members across several generations, usually occurring before the age of 40.

*Are meat-eaters more prone to colorectal cancer?*
It appears to be so, because colorectal cancer is found more prevalent in populations that low-fiber diets that are high in animal proteins, fats, and refined carbohydrates. The incidence of colorectal cancer and other forms of cancers is indeed high among those who eat red meat (pork, beef, etc) compared to those who eat high fiber diets (vegetables, fruits, wheat, bran, etc) and fish.

*What is the mechanism in the formation of cancer?*
This question is not yet settled. It is postulated that carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) may be from the low-fiber food (especially red meat) we eat, or produced from the resulting biliary or intestinal secretions following bacterial action, which transforms these into carcinogens. Colorectal cancer is one reason why we recommend abstinence from red meat and staying on high-fiber diet of vegetables and fruits, and fish. The other is, of course, to minimize the occurrence of diabetes, obesity, heart attack, stroke, and Alzheimer’s.

*What are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?*
The person may not have symptoms at all. It could be so subtle, like fatigue and anemia. Blood in the stool (black or bloody red stools) is one common sign. The others include change in the bowel habits, diarrhea or constipation, stools more slender or flatter than usual, stomach discomfort, bloating, fullness, abdominal cramps, frequent gas pains, unexplained weight loss, a sensation that the rectum does not empty completely. Not all these symptoms and signs need to be present, or necessary, to suspect possible presence colorectal cancer. Any one of these, if persistent, should alert one to seek medical help.

*When should colonoscopy be done?*
Looking at your stools every time you defecate is fundamental. If there is a change in the color, consistency, and shape of your stools, or if you see red blood in your stools, or if is black, report this to your physician, since blood in the stools is one of the earliest signs of colon cancer. He/she may order a test for occult blood even if the color of your stool is normal, which is recommended annually for those 50 and older, together with flexible fiber-optic colonoscopy every 3 to 5 years. These are life-saving test and procedures, great gifts of medical science, which each of us should take advantage of.

*How can we prevent cancer?*
Cancer in general is caused, in almost all cases, by what we eat and drink, what we breathe in, what we apply to our body, what we expose ourselves to in our environment, by our personal behavior, and to some extent by our individual genetic predisposition. As far as our genes are concerned, we did not choose them, but we can choose to protect our DNA from harm through healthy lifestyle and behavior.

Here are some basic guides: (1) Minimize or avoid eating red meat. Instead, have a regular diet of fish, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fruits, and partake rice, bread, and other carbohydrates in moderation.

For those who are overweight, abstaining from rice, soft drinks, cakes, ice cream, and other sweets is most effective in preventing obesity. Soft drinks are all hazardous to health as they increase the risk for Metabolic Syndrome. (2) Do daily physical exercises, which is a magic bullet against diabetes, heart attack, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and even cancer. They also improve stamina, agility, mental health, and even sexual performance. (3) Take daily multivitamins and minerals, but avoid mega-doses as they are toxic to the body. (4) Listen to your body, and consult your physician promptly for any health concerns, and do not put off any recommended laboratory tests and procedures, like colonoscopy, etc., since early detection can save lives. (5) Stay away tobacco and from secondhand smoke, which is even more toxic. (6) If you enjoy alcoholic drinks, imbibe in moderation, preferably with dinner; excess alcohol increases the risk for cancer, burns the liver and cooks the brain. (7) Overall, live and enjoy a healthy lifestyle with family and friends.
Email: scalpelpen@gmail.com

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