More than 95% of colorectal cancers come from adenocarcinoma polyps. These cancers start in cells that form mucus glands, which lubricate the colon and rectum. A polyp is a group of cells that form on top of each other and may eventually turn cancerous. Carcinoid tumors, gastrointestinal stromal tumors and lymphomas also cause 5% of colon cancers. Doctors say the best way to prevent colon cancer is to undergo regular screening tests after the age of 50 and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Before talking about colon cancer prevention, let’s talk a little about what colon cancer is, exactly. Both the colon and rectum are part of the digestive system. The first part of the digestive system, which is the esophagus and stomach, breaks down food to be processed into energy. Next, the broken down food travels to the small intestine/bowel, which is a narrow, 20-foot section that continues breaking down food and absorbing most of the nutrients. The small intestine then sends the remaining material to the five-foot-long colon (which is also referred to as “the large intestine”), where it absorbs salt and water and stores waste. The first part of the colon is the ascending colon, which is attached to the small intestine and the appendix on the right side of the abdomen. The transverse colon runs from the right to the left side of the upper abdomen. The descending colon travels downward on the left side and the sigmoid colon is an S-shaped portion that passes food matter down to the rectum, the final six inches of the digestive system, which will pass food out of the body through the anus. No one is really sure what exactly causes a colon cancer cell to develop in the first place, or why some experience a colon cancer recurrence, but research suggests a variety of lifestyle, hereditary and environmental factors are at play.
To prevent colon cancer, screening tests and diagnostic tests are extremely important for early detection of colon polyps, which may later become cancerous. Most people begin testing at age 50, although people who are at high risk will need to go in for testing sooner. You may be at high risk of developing colon cancer if you are obese, you smoke, you eat a lot of saturated fats/red meats, you eat a diet low in vitamins/minerals and fiber, you have diabetes, you have FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis) or HNPCC (hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, if you have growth hormone disorder, or if you have had ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Testing options include stool sample testing (fecal occult blood test, stool DNA test), lighted exploratory tubes being placed in the colon to look for polyps (flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy), and x-rays (double-contrast barium enema, virtual colonoscopy). These should be done every 5 to 10 years, on average.
Research suggests one of the best ways to prevent colon cancer is to eat right. An Ohio State University study found that rodents who were fed raspberries with their meals developed 80% less tumors than rodents who ate regular food. Blackberries and raspberries contain anthocyanins and polyphenolics, which inhibit blood vessel formation that would normally feed a cancerous cell. Secondly, an 8-year study from UCSD found that vitamin D/sunlight exposure alters the growth of colon cells to prevent malignancy. It’s best to spend 10 minutes in the sun before applying sunscreen, as even SPF-8 lotion can reduce your ability to convert sunlight to Vitamin D by 95%. A University of Maryland lab study shows that the inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) fiber in corn prevents the growth of the colon cancer cell by regulating cell activity. Louisiana State University researchers discovered that curry inhibits cancer cell movement and can even destroy some smaller cancer cells. Lastly, Oregon State University researchers recommend white tea for its anti-oxidant properties. In addition to these foods, individuals should limit red meat, saturated fat, alcohol and tobacco consumption.