Lifestyle changes key to reduce risk of colon cancer
While colon cancer can be deadly, early detection and prevention is key to overcoming this disease. When caught in the early stages, colon cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer. Most people overlook symptoms of colon cancer as they are not very unusual or severe and are attributed to other issues such as an upset stomach, or often there are no symptoms in the early stages.
Colon cancer is one of the top three most common cancers that affect people in the world and one of the leading cancers that contribute to death worldwide. In India, it contributes to nearly two million cancer related deaths. A recent Indian Council of Medical Research study pointed out that lifestyle changes, environmental factors and adoption of western habits along with other reasons are contributing to an increase in the number of colon cancer cases in India. This is a cancer of the large intestine that can extend to the rectum and it typically affects the elderly beyond the age of 70; however it can also occur to people of any age.
Colon cancer starts with abnormal tissue growth along the inner lining of the large intestinal wall, called polyps. These appear as bumps, or cilia like outgrowth along the inner wall that gradually grow bigger if cancerous. Not all polyps however are cancerous and further testing can determine whether it is benign or otherwise. If the cancer cells penetrate deeper into the intestinal tissue from the polyps and enter into the blood or lymph vessels, it is possible for the cancer to spread to nearby tissue or even to other parts of the body and eventually develop into a cancer of that area.
Colon cancer progresses in five stages (stage 0 to 4) and Stage 4, or the last stage, is when the cancerous cells spread from the inner lining of the intestine to other parts of the body. A study by the National Centre for Biotechnology Information suggested that men are more susceptible to mortality from colon cancer in comparison to women.
While there is not one specific cause for colon cancer but certain factors can increase the risk for developing colon cancer. Cigarette smoking, alcohol abuse, poor dietary habits, sedentary lifestyle, genetic history of colon cancer, obesity, increased susceptibility to diseases of the colon such as inflammatory bowel disease, Type 2 diabetes are all risk factors for colon cancer.
Symptoms of colon cancer include bleeding in the stools, pain or discomfort in the stomach region, odd consistency of the stools, fatigue, weight loss or inability to put on weight, feeling gassy or often getting abdominal cramps, and suffering from diarrohoea or constipation with no apparent cause. While colon cancer can be deadly, early detection and prevention is key to overcoming this disease. When caught in the early stages, colon cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer. Most people overlook symptoms of colon cancer as they are not very unusual or severe and are attributed to other issues such as an upset stomach, or often there are no symptoms in the early stages.
If you are over the age of 50 or fall into the high risk group for colon cancer, it is recommended to go for a colonoscopy every 3-5 years. In this procedure, the doctor will insert a colonoscope, which is a long tube with a camera attached at the end that provides view into the colon. A colon cleanse is required prior to the procedure in order to provide a clear view of the tissue. A biopsy will determine if the polyps are cancerous or otherwise.
Lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of developing colon cancer and intestinal and gut health is closely linked to the diet, nutritional and health habits of an individuals. Switching to a healthy diet, with fruits, vegetables and whole grains taking priority over processed, fried and ready-to-eat snacks and junk foods. Regular exercise (at least 30 minutes – 1 hour of rigorous physical activity), along with limiting harmful habits such as alcohol consumption and smoking will help put you on the path to overall well-being and reduce your risk of developing colon cancer.
(The author is Lead Consultant, Medical Oncology – Aster RV Hospital)