As an over-50-something and a two-time cancer survivor, I am passionate about learning all I can about cancer. I keep up on the latest news about treatment and more importantly, how to avoid it.
Recently, I drove a friend to get his first colonoscopy, a screening procedure suggested for everyone after the age of 50, to detect signs of colorectal cancer. It reminded me of how terrible the disease can be if not tackled early and, yet, how relatively easy it is to detect.
As many of you may know, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of non-skin cancer in both men (after prostate and lung cancer) and women (after breast and lung cancer). Unfortunately, it is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States with some 134,500 people getting diagnosed with it in 2016 and around 50,000 people will die from it this same year.
What is colon cancer, risk factors?
Colon cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the colon. The website cancer.gov suggests a long list of risk factors. Do you have any of these?
- Increasing age
- Colorectal polyps
- A family history
- Excessive alcohol use
- Obesity, physically inactive, cigarette smoking
- History of inflammatory bowel disease.
How can I reduce my risk?
According to a recent article in the AARP magazine titled “Taking on Colon Cancer,” author Jeffrey W. Milsom, M.D. said the most important step is to get screened. He noted, “Almost all of us develop precancerous polyps as we get older, and, in fact, there is a pretty big window of opportunity-several years-to get a polyp removed and be cured.” Still, he added that most people do not get screened early; about 22 million of those ages 65 to 75who should be screened are not.
Some of the most common tests designed to uncover colorectal cancer include: fecal occult blood test, sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy. Standard treatments for colorectal cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, cryosurgery, radiofrequency ablation, and targeted therapy.
Milsom also suggested that most symptoms could be related to all sorts of maladies. That is why individuals need to be aware that colorectal cancer can show symptoms like bloating, appetite loss or even anemia.
Prevention is key
What we can do to try to prevent colon cancer is to embrace a healthier lifestyle that suggests taking actions that eliminate or halt risk factors. For example, stop smoking, watch your weight and get going on the exercise. Of course, improved nutrition helps manage many of these factors.
You may have read my column, “AGING WITH CARE | Diet and health for the aging” in the April 2016 issue of City Living Seattle, that discussed nutrition. The “2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans” has nutritional strategies urging us to eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and healthy fats, while lowering the intake of salt and sugar. In addition, exercise helps our bodies do a better job of processing the foods we eat.
Ideas to nurture nutrition
Let me summarize some ideas from that article that may help our seniors eat healthier:
- Pre-make home-cooked meals to be thawed and micro waved.
- Stews and soups are great “comfort foods.”
- Make easy to chew and digest meals.
- Consider hiring a caregiver to help with meal prep.
- Look into your local Meals on Wheels.
- Keep snacks like fruit, cottage cheese, nuts, dried fruit, cut up veggies around.