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Published on March 11, 2020

6 Ways to Keep Your Colon Healthy and Cancer-Free

African American Couple

Each year, more than 4,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer in North Carolina. Colon cancer begins in the last part of the digestive track, also known as the colon. Rectal cancer begins in the rectum, the lower end of the large intestine. Together, they are referred to as colorectal cancers.

In most cases, small polyps form that become cancerous over time. These polyps have few, if any, symptoms. Therefore, doctors recommend screening tests to help prevent colon cancer. A colonoscopy can identify any polyps which doctors can remove before they become cancerous.

People who are at average risk should have their first colonoscopy at age 50. However, it's important to know your risk factor. African-Americans have the highest colorectal cancer rate of all racial groups in the United States. If you have a family history of colon cancer or you have been diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease you are also at higher risk. Talk to your doctor about when you should begin colon cancer screenings.

Here are six ways to keep your colon healthy and cancer-free:

  1. Regular testing. The most common test for colon cancer is a colonoscopy. This is when the entire colon is viewed using a flexible camera while the patient is under anesthesia. Any polyps that are found can be immediately and safely removed. Other tests include a sigmoidoscopy, where just the lower colon is examined, and fecal occult blood test (FOBT), which is a lab test to check stool samples for hidden (occult) blood. If FOBT shows blood in the stool, then a colonoscopy is needed to examine the colon.
  2. Eat a colon-healthy diet. Load up on fruits, vegetables and whole grain fiber. Fruits and veggies are high in antioxidants, while fiber promotes regular bowel movements.
  3. Stop eating red meats and processed foods. Skip the steak and sausage. Red meats and processed meats are high in saturated fat and have been linked to colon cancer. Eat lean proteins such as beans, poultry and fish.
  4. Body Mass Index is important. People who are obese are at a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
  5. Exercise. Physically active people have a 24 percent lower risk of colon cancer than those who are not.
  6. Limit alcohol and stop smoking. Alcohol is a known risk factor for colon cancer. Drinking increases the workload on the liver, which causes more toxins to pass through the colon. Smoking is a well-known cause of lung cancer, but is also linked to other cancers, including colon cancer.

According to National Cancer Institute data, the relative five-year survival rate for stage I colon cancer is 92 percent, compared to an 11 percent survival rate for stage IV, which clearly indicates that early screening, diagnosis and treatment are the key.

About the Author

Dawn PlackeDawn Placke, RN, BSN is a Gastrointestinal (GI) Oncology Nurse
at the Cone Health Cancer Center at Wesley Long.