If you still consider it taboo to discuss your colon and rectal health, you should know that talking about it could save your life.
“It's not embarrassing, it's smart,” says Michael Kreines, MD, a board-certified Gastroenterologist and Chief of Gastroenterology at The Christ Hospital. “If you’re talking to your physician about your colon functions and health, you’re already on your way toward preventing colorectal cancer.”
Who's at risk for colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in the U.S., partly because it often goes undiagnosed. Silently, polyps can develop in the colon or rectum and become malignant. For this reason, knowing and addressing your risk factors and undergoing the recommended screenings before any symptoms develop is crucial.
Risk factors of colorectal cancer include:
- family history of the disease
- a low-fiber, high-fat diet
- inflammatory intestinal conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- obesity (BMI of 30 or greater)
- ignoring the warning signs
How to reduce your risk
If you have any of the risk factors of colorectal cancer, Dr. Kreines says there are ways you can reduce your risk.
If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, understand your family’s history.
“Talk to your immediate family members about their health history and how it affects your risk for colorectal cancer,” says Dr. Kreines.
Start the conversation by asking about all cancers and colon polyps that run in the family. Start getting colonoscopies at age 50 or earlier if a parent or sibling had colon cancer.
If your regular diet is low in fiber and high in fat, become conscious of your diet.
A low-fat, high-fiber diet gives food extra bulk that helps your body move toxins and waste through the digestive tract. Adult men and women should consume between 25 and 38 grams of fiber per day from whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
If you have an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, establish a relationship with a gastroenterologist.
“Working with a specialist will help a person with inflammatory bowel disease monitor medications, overall digestive health and any additional preventive screenings he or she might need,” says Dr. Kreines.
If you smoke, kick the habit for good.
While smoke enters your lungs, particulates can be swallowed and absorbed in the digestive tract. Giving up smoking can help reduce your risk for the two cancers that cause the most deaths: lung cancer and colorectal cancer.
If you're obese, live an active lifestyle.
Being active and exercising daily helps the body move waste through the digestive tract and encourages regular bowel movements. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity five or more days per week. The results are even greater when workouts are 45 to 60 minutes long.
Colorectal cancer has warning signs. Listen to your body.
See your physician if you experience:
- prolonged diarrhea, constipation or vomiting
- blood in the stool
- changes in bowel habits
- abdominal cramping
- unexplained weight loss
Learn more about colorectal cancer.