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Colon Cancer and Its Prevention

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Colon Cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death.  According to the most recent data, CDC found that 38% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer died from it1.

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

  • Polyps
    • Many colon polyps are benign, but all polyps have the potential to become cancerous, some more aggressively than others.
  • Age
    • Your chance of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer is 50 times higher if you're age 60 to 79 than if you're younger than age 40.
  • Inheritance
    • Colorectal cancer is more likely to occur among people with a first-degree relative diagnosed with colorectal cancer before age of 60
    • Higher risk with a personal or family history of IBD (inflammatory Bowel Disease) such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
    • Study found higher rates of precancerous lesions in people with Lynch syndrome[14]
      • "We saw that Lynch syndrome patients who had an eating pattern with higher intakes of snack foods -- like fast-food snacks, chips or fried snacks -- were twice as likely to develop these polyps as Lynch syndrome patients having a pattern with lower intakes of snack foods," study author Akke Botma, of the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, said in a journal news release.
  • Chronic inflammatory bowel disease
    • People who suffer from Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis for at least 8 to 10 years have a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
    • Constant inflammation of the colon can cause cell turnover and can also speed up the growth of polyps.
  • Obesity
    • You don't have to be obese to develop cancer.  Even moderately overweight people are at elevated risk, with the risk rising as body weight increases.
    • Even the chances of surviving cancer are worse if a person is overweight.
    • Studies on animals consistently show that cutting back on calories lowers cancer rates.
    • People who store more fat above the belt compared with those who carry their extra weight in the hips and thighs also are more likely to have higher estrogen levels and higher risks of developing cancer.
  • Smoking
    • Smoking is a well-known cause of lung cancer, but swallowing the cancer-causing substances in cigarettes also causes colon cancer.
  • Virus.
    • Exposure to some viruses (such as particular strains of human papilloma virus) may be associated with colorectal cancer11.
  • Alcohol
    • Drinking, especially heavily, may be a risk factor11.
  • Prostate cancer treatment (i.e., Androgen Deprivation Therapy) may up colon cancer risk12.

Cancer Screening

Colon cancer screening is very important because:
  • Precancerous colon polyps or early-stage colon cancer often don't have symptoms.
  • Need to find and treat tumors early
    • The accumulating mutations correspond to the progression of colon cancer, from a benign but pre-cancerous polyp to a virulent, invasive tumor, with each evolving generation's mutations accounting for the nastier and nastier behavior.
    • Dr. Bert Vogelstein has shown that all forms of colon cancer—whether they occur in families or develop spontaneously—have similar patterns of stepwise accumulation of mutations, originating within the lining cells of the bowels.
If you have a family history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor earlier.  Your doctor will recommend one of several tests proven effective at detecting cancer or polyps:
  • Sigmoidoscopy (or proctoscopy)
    • A visual observation of half your colon by a specially trained doctor. 
      • This test requires a clean colon.  If nothing is found, you don't need another one for 5 years
    • Can be done easily in a physician's office, but it examines only the rectum and lower part of the large bowel and can miss polyps or cancers higher up.
  • Colonoscopy[13]
    • A visual observation of your colon by a gastroenterologist.
    • This test requires you to clean your colon the day before the test. 
    • A thin fiber-optic tube is snaked through the entire large bowel; it takes a bit longer and generally calls for mild sedation.
    • Polyps can be removed during this procedure.
    • If no polyps are found, you don't need another colonoscopy for 10 years.
      • Need to be done more often if the patient has a condition that predisposes to colon cancer, such as ulcerative colitis.
  • Fecal occult blood tests
    • Look for hidden blood in your stool, which could be an early sign of polyps or cancer.
    • These tests are done once per year.
The good news is that regular screening can prevent colon cancer from starting.  Screening detects polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.

How to Lessen Cancer Risk

Compared to someone in the United States, an Okinawan elder is 85% less likely to die from breast cancer, 88% less likely to die from prostate cancer, 70% less likely to die from ovarian cancer, and 70% less likely to die from colon cancer8.  So, other than genes, there are other factors which increases our cancer risk such as environment and diet.  To lessen colon cancer risk, here are what the research has found out:
  • In adults, folate has been proven to lessen colon cancer risk.
  • Vitamin D and calcium are linked to a lower risk of colon, prostate, breast, and ovarian cancer.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids are protective against colon cancer.
  • Stay physically active and dedicate time to exercise each day.[15]
    • Those who physically active have a 50 percent lower chance of developing colon cancer2.
  • Honey contains salicylic acid, minerals, alpha-tocopherol, and oligosaccharides
    • Oligosaccharides increase the number of "good" bacteria in the colon, reduce levels of toxic metabolites in the intestine, help prevent constipation, and help lower cholesterol and blood pressure
  • Fenugreek (胡芦巴)
    • In recent research, fenugreek seeds were experimentally shown to protect against cancers of the breast (Amin et al., 2005) and colon (Raju et al., 2006).
  • An inverse relationship was found between total dietary fiber and the incidence of colon polyps or cancer
    • Insoluble fiber
      • Proven benefits include fewer colon polyps and thus less risk of colon cancer
      • Good sources include, not limited to
        • Blackberries
          • Insoluble fiber in blackberry seeds protects against colon cancer and promotes regularity.
        • Whole wheat
  • Yogurt or kefir reduces the risk for both colon and breast cancer.
    • Neutralizes mutagens that cause cancer
    • Stimulates the immune system by both promoting immmunoglobulin production and decreasing inflammation.
    • In one French study, people who ate the most yogurt had half as many precancerous colon polyps as those who ate no yogurt.
    • A Japanese study found that kefir reduces intestinal permeability and can inhibit yeast as well as other unwanted bacteria such as clostridia and enterobacteraciae from overgrowing in the colon
  • Extra virgin olive oil
    • Reduces your risk for breast and colon cancer
  • Pumpkin
    • Reduces the risk for lung, bladder, colon, and breast cancer.
  • Onion
    • Reduces the risk for colon cancer, which quercetin is the protective factor
  • Colon-cleansing foods
    • Ensures that unwanted waste that the liver discards doesn't get reabsorbed by the body

    • Includes foods high in soluble fiber like:
      • Apples
      • Flaxseeds
        • Contain cancer-fighting compounds called lignans [23]
        • Are a source of the healthy fat alpha-linoleic acid
        • Note that it contains cyanogenic glycosides, over-consumption (more than 3-4 tablespoons a day) can suppress the thyroid's ability to take up sufficient iodine, which can lead to goiter.
  • Aspirin
    • Decreases the risk of getting colon cancer, esophageal cancer, prostate cancer, ovarian cancer, and breast cancer-all by 40 percent through the reduction of inflammation throughout the body.
    • See [9] for known side effects.
    • See [15] for why taking aspirin helps some—but not all—people with colorectal cancer.
  • Ellagic acid
    • Found at particularly high concentrations in raspberries, but also strawberries, blueberries, pomegranates and walnuts.
    • Has an effect against a wide range of cancers in several tissues
    • Has been shown to significantly inhibit cancers of the breast, pancreas, esophagus, skin, colon, prostate, liver, lung, and tongue in rats and mice.
  • Dietary fat
    • Saturated fats in meat escalate risk for several types of cancer including colon cancer, while olive oil or canola oil, nuts, and the oils in fish might suppress cancer growth.
    • Evidence continues to accumulate that low-fat diets are not just good for the heart but also associated with lower risk for colon and prostate cancerand maybe cancer of the breast.
  • Cabbage[18]
    • A study in Japan discovered that people who consumed the most cabbage had the lowest death rate from all cancers. 
    • According to research, eating cabbage more than once a week cut men's colon cancer odds by as much as 66 percent.
  • Naturally-Occurring Antiangiogenic Substances
    • See [10] for more details.
  • Vitamin B6
    • Vitamin B6 intake is inversely associated with the risk of colorectal cancer11.
  • Legume
    • Based on evidence from a meta-analysis of cohort studies, dietary legume consumption reduces risk of colorectal cancer.[24-26]

  1. You can prevent colon cancer by Shelley Lawson July 2010 The Costco Connection
  2. Spark by John J. Ratey, MD
  3. Living TimeFaith and Facts to Transform Your Cancer Journey by Bernadine Healy, M.D.
  4. Food Cures by Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN.
  5. Healthy Aging for Dummies
  6. The Essential Best Foods Cookbook by Dana Jacobi
  7. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
  8. Healthy At 100 by John Robbins
  9. Pros and Cons of Aspirin (Travel and Health)
  10. Naturally-Occurring Antiangiogenic Substances
  11. Colorectal Cancer (Wikipedia)
  12. Prostate Cancer Treatment May Up Colon Cancer Risk (Dr. Vahakn Shahinian, of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
  13. Colonoscopy—My Personal Experience (Travel and Health)
  14. Unhealthy Snacks Tied to Colon Cancer for Those at High Risk
  15. Gene mutation key to aspirin’s benefit in people with colorectal cancer
  16. Can Parasites Heal the Gut? (Travel and Health)
  17. Essential Gut Health (Travel and Health)
  18. Stop stomach ulcers with the miracle remedy of cabbage
  19. Colon Cancer Symptoms
  20. How honey kills bacteria
  21. Study: At-home screening test for colon cancer a good alternative
  22. 10 Cancer Symptoms You Likely Ignore
  23. Mammalian lignans inhibit the growth of estrogen-independent human colon tumor cells
    • Lignans are growth inhibitors of colon tumor cells and they may act through mechanism(s) other than antiestrogenic activity.
  24. Dietary legume consumption reduces risk of colorectal cancer: evidence from a meta-analysis of cohort studies
  25. Phytochemicals in the Fight Against Cancer
  26. Are Lectins in Food Good or Bad for You? (video)
  27. Which Food Fights Cancer Better? (Travel to Health)

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