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If you're older than 50, it's time to get screened for colorectal cancer

COURTESY: ADVENTIST HEALTH - A colonscope like this one is used in a colorectal cancer screening.Colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer in Oregon after lung cancer. It’s also one of the easiest cancers to prevent through regular screening.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, when Portlanders who are 50 to 75 should get screened for colorectal cancer by having a colonoscopy.

Screenings performed by gastroenterologists help catch abnormal cells and polyps early on so they can be removed before turning cancerous.

But for many people, colorectal cancer and the screen to detect it can be difficult or embarrassing subjects to discuss. They shouldn’t be, because getting screened could save your life. Early removal of pre-cancerous polyps or detection of colorectal cancer is crucial, because colon cancer is one of the most treatable forms of cancer. The five-year survival rate for stage one colon cancer is 92 percent, yet one third of people are not up-to-date on colorectal cancer screenings.

“I encourage anyone over the age of 50 or who may be at risk for colorectal cancer to schedule a colonoscopy and get screened for this often symptomless cancer,” said Jaime Aranda-Michel, MD, AGAF, FAASLD, a board certified gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Adventist Medical Center.

The gold standard for testing is a colonoscopy, which should be done at least every 10 years. When performing a colonoscopy, a gastroenterologist uses a small flexible tube with a camera at the end to examine the full length of the colon and remove polyps or suspicious growths.

“Many people avoid getting a colonoscopy or even discussing colorectal cancer because there’s a stigma associated with this form of cancer or they’re concerned about the screening procedure,” adds Dr. Aranda-Michel. “Talking about the procedure with a loved one or someone who has gone through it can be extremely beneficial and put people at ease. Plus the technology has advanced significantly so the procedure is far less invasive than it once was.”

Research has shown that people are more likely to get screened for colorectal cancer if someone they trust encourages them to get screened, whether it’s a spouse, partner, friend or colleague.

In addition to getting screened for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the gastroenterology team at Adventist Medical Center wants Portlanders to focus on prevention of this deadly cancer.

Top three ways to help prevent colorectal cancer:

Exercise regularly

Dr. Aranda-Michel recommends working off a few of those extra pounds around the tummy by getting 30 minutes of moderate daily activity. Whether it’s a walk after work or taking an evening dancing class with your partner, getting daily exercise is one of the best ways to prevent colorectal cancer and other diseases, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Maintain a healthy weight

Regular exercise combined with a healthy diet can help you keep the pounds off, reducing your risk for colorectal cancer as well as other chronic diseases and cancers. Incorporate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products into your diet. These foods will give your body the vitamins, nutrients, minerals and fiber your body needs. Cut out foods high in sugar, fat and carbohydrates and reduce how much red meat and processed meat you consume. Processed meats in particular, including bacon, sausage and deli meats, increase the risk for colon cancer.

Quit smoking

People who smoke are 18 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer. Smoking increases your risk for colorectal cancer, as well as lung cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Colon cancer symptoms

  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Stomach pain or constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
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