There’s a great irony in colorectal cancer — or colon cancer — being the third-most-common cancer in the U.S.
“It’s one of the most preventable, treatable and beatable cancers out there,” said Alan Herline, MD, chief, colorectal surgery program, Memorial Health System.
“As medical professionals, this also provides us with an opportunity to educate people and save lives,” he added.
Early Detection Important
The challenge with colon cancer is that, by the time patients experience symptoms like pain, bleeding or obstruction, the cancer is so advanced that it requires more extreme surgery and treatment.
“Survivor rates for stages 1-3 are good, but later stages are less well-survived,” said Dr. Herline.
The reason colon cancer is beatable is precisely because it’s both preventable and treatable in early stages, including finding and removing cancerous and pre-cancerous polyps during a colonoscopy.
“A colonoscopy is such a powerful diagnostic and treatment tool,” explained Dr. Herline. “You can identify and remove polyps for biopsy while also examining the condition of the colon.”
Colonoscopies are minimally invasive so patients can get right back to their lives.
In addition to screening via colonoscopy starting at age 45, Dr. Herline’s advice for preventing colon cancer centers around diet and lifestyle.
“Along with smoking, I would say obesity and lack of fiber in the diet are the leading causes of colon cancer,” he said.
Why Is Fiber in the Diet Important in Preventing Colon Cancer?
A high-fiber diet is important for a healthy digestive system and helps prevent a variety of conditions, including colon cancer. You get dietary fiber from foods you eat, which in turn promote healthy stools and normal intestinal activity. There are two basic types of dietary fiber:
- Soluble Water-soluble fibers, which help absorb water during digestion and increase stool bulk. Apples, oranges, grapefruit, vegetables, legumes (such as dry beans, lentils and peas), barley, oats and oat bran are some of the best sources of soluble fiber.
- Insoluble Water-insoluble fibers remain unchanged during digestion and promote normal movement of intestinal contents. Fruits with edible peel or seeds, vegetables, whole grain products (whole-wheat bread, pasta and crackers), bulgur wheat, stone ground corn meal, cereals, bran, rolled oats, buckwheat and brown rice are top foods to look for.*
How Much Fiber Do You Need?
More than you think. The average adult in the U.S. consumes about 15 grams of fiber a day, but the recommended average is 25 to 30 grams per day.
Overall, actual food sources of fiber are more effective and healthier than fiber supplements. There are many things you can do to easily increase your fiber intake, starting with including at least one serving of whole grains (oats, wheat germ, whole grain bread, brown rice) in every meal.
Try adding dried, cooked beans like kidney or garbanzo to salads or mixed with brown rice. A one-half cup serving carries 7-8 grams of fiber!
Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Fresh fruit has more fiber than canned, but dried fruit has more fiber than fresh. For example, a cup of grapes gives you 1 gram of fiber, but a cup of raisins gives you 7 grams of fiber.
The old adage that an apple a day keeps the doctor away has a kernel of whole grain truth to it. Think grains, beans, fruits and veggies to help reduce your risk of colon cancer.
“Even people with a family history of the disease can drastically reduce their chance of getting it by getting screened, keeping your weight down and eating a high-fiber diet,” said Dr. Herline.
What’s his number one recommendation?
“Ask your doctor about getting a colonoscopy,” he said.
“That and small lifestyle changes are concrete things anyone can do,” he concluded. “We as medical professionals need to keep communicating this life-saving information.”