What To Know About Colon Cancer

Gentry Caton, MD

Every day we do things to protect our family from injury and suffering.  We use seat belts and bike helmets.  We check the expiration date on the milk and get the oil changed in the car before a long trip.  We vaccinate ourselves against diseases and we try to floss our teeth. 

All of this is in an effort to live healthy long lives, and many times these tasks can be inconvenient and mundane.  When it comes to our health we often can feel overwhelmed or confused about the diseases our doctors attempt to explain.  Even the most in-depth Internet search can lead you to conflicting information and can cause frustration. 

Some diseases cannot be clearly explained and many cannot be caught early and cured.  Five percent of all Americans will develop colorectal cancer during their lives.  However, there are things you can do for your family that can prevent colorectal cancer.  You can help prevent head injury with helmets; a car break down with a scheduled tune-up and you can prevent colon and rectal cancer.  Here is how…

Know the signs… and tell your doctor.

  1. Most people with colon cancer have no symptoms.  That is why getting a screening test from your doctor is so important. 
  2. Change in the size of your stool
  3. Blood in your stool – Do not assume that blood iyourou bowel movement is just your hemorrhoids
  4. Abdominal pain
  5. Significant weight loss

Reduce your risk of cancer by…

  1. Eating a diet high in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.  The nutrients contain chemicals that may play a role in cancer development.  Avoid red meat, especially salted and heavily cured meats.
  2. Limit drinking alcohol to one drink a day for women and two drinks for men.
  3. Stop smoking.  You can talk to your doctor about medications that can make quitting easier.
  4. Exercise thirty minutes on most days.  Ask your doctor how to increase your activity slowly if you have been inactive in the past. 
  5. Healthy Weight.  Increased weight increases the risk of cancer.

Prevention…

Most people need to be screened for colorectal cancer at age 50 because that is the age when risk increases.  Some people how have a family history of colon cancer may need a screening at a younger age.  So ask about your parents’ and siblings’ health and then ask your doctor when you should get a screening test. 

1. Colonoscopy

The best test for screening is a colonoscopy every 10 years.  This is the only test that can detect and remove a growth of tissue (polyp) inside the colon before it becomes cancer. 

2. Stool test – There are new stool tests available that can detect small pieces of DNA from a large colon polyp or cancer.  The test is done at home and mailed to a lab.  Ask your doctor if you are an appropriate patient for this type of test.  Also, ask if your insurance will cover it, because some companies don’t cover it.

Finding a polyp and removing it during colonoscopy is like finding out about a traffic jam ahead of you and taking a different street to avoid it.  You will save you and your family time, frustration, and also prevent a disease that can be prevented…colon cancer.  Screening for diseases like breast cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, and colorectal cancer protects you like all the other small things you do to make your loved ones safe.  If you have a loved one who is 50 years or older please make sure they wear a seat belt in the car, have plenty of air in their car tires, and encourage them to get colorectal cancer screening.

Dr. Caton is a native of North Carolina and attended the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill Undergraduate and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine. He is currently accepting patients at Blue Mountain Surgery and is a member of the Western Carolina Medical Society.

By Gentry Caton, MD

About Shelby Harrell

Shelby Harrell is the news editor of the Biltmore Beacon, editor of The Guide arts and entertainment publication and is a staff writer for Mountaineer Publishing. Originally from Asheville, she has worked in journalism for more than six years and currently lives in Clyde, NC.