Colon Cancer – Early Warning Signs, Testing, And Prevention Tips

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer and cause of cancer death in the United States among both men and women.

New cases of colon cancer in people under the age of 50 have been rising at an alarming rate over the past several decades. Research shows that the proportion of individuals under the age of 55 doubled from 11% (1 in 10) in 1995 to 20% (1 in 5) in 2019.

The American Cancer Society recommends that you begin screening for colon cancer at age 45 – no matter your race, ethnicity, or gender. Recently, I learned about a former Michigan football player, Craig Roh who passed last month at age 33 after his battle with colon cancer and received several messages from my community on social media sharing stories or family members and friends who also lost their lives too soon due to lack of proper testing and awareness.

What are the warning signs of of colon cancer in younger adults? 

Younger adults aren’t routinely screened for colon cancer because the disease is still relatively rate in younger adults. An analysis showed that in the period of 3 month in the 2 years because people with colon cancer were diagnosed, four signs were more commonly reported in people who developed colon cancer than in matched controls. These signs included:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Rectal bleeding (had the strongest associated with a diagnosis of early onset colon cancer)
  • Diarrhea
  • Iron deficiency anemia

Having just one of these signs during this period was associated with nearly twice the likelihood of being diagnosed with early onset colon cancer as having none of the signs.

Having three or more of these signs was associated with six times the likelihood of being diagnosed with the disease. 

The findings were published May 4 in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Other symptoms that would be a cause for alarm might include:

  • Persistent abdominal discomfort. Cramps, gas, pain, or feeling bloated for an extended period, particularly if these symptoms are accompanied by a feeling of fullness, even after not eating for a while
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue or weakness despite getting adequate rest and nutrition
  • Nausea or vomiting. Especially if it is persistent and not related to other known conditions

Our bowel movements and symptoms are little messages from our body when something is wrong. Unfortunately, a significant number of individuals experiencing digestive discomfort often dismiss these signals as a part of their routine or fail to recognize them as potential indicators of an underlying imbalance.

What types of testing are used for diagnosis and early detection and risk? 

  1. Colonoscopy: This is the gold standard for colon cancer screening and diagnosis. During a colonoscopy, a flexible tube with a camera at the end is inserted into the colon to examine its lining for any abnormalities or signs of cancer.
  2. Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Similar to a colonoscopy but examines only the lower part of the colon.
  3. Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) and Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT): These tests detect blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colon cancer or other gastrointestinal issues.
  4. CT Colonography (Virtual Colonoscopy): This non-invasive procedure uses CT scans to create images of the colon, which can then be examined for abnormalities.
  5. GI-MAP™ stool test. This test is not a standalone diagnostic tool and should be used in conjunction with other clinical information and testing. This test looks at immune markers, overgrowths of harmful bacteria, and inflammatory markers in the stool. It has been an incredibly useful tool in my practice and has even helped my clients get in earlier for colonoscopies when they typically wouldn’t have otherwise.

There are other types of tests that are used to assess risk from a genetic perspective. The Galleri test for example is a multi-cancer early detection test that looks for a signal shared by 50+ types of cancer with a single blood test. False positive and false negative results do occur with this test. Cologuard is an at home colon cancer screening test that looks at both abnormal DNA and blood in your stool. 

Diet, lifestyle and supplementation in prevention 

Diet and lifestyle have long been recognized as significant factors influencing cancer risk. Research indicates that certain dietary patterns and lifestyle choices can either increase or decrease the likelihood of developing various types of cancer.

Here are some key points derived from scientific studies.

Numerous studies suggest that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes are associated with a reduced risk of several types of cancer. Coincidentally, these foods are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemical which can all help reduce inflammation and contain antioxidants which may help protect against cancer.

High intakes of red and processed meat consumption has also been associated with an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers. Processed meats include bacon, sausage, ham, salami, corned beef, jerky, hot dogs, and lunch meats. A meta-analysis of 29 studies of meat consumption and colon cancer concluded that a high consumption of red meat increases risk by 28%, and a high consumption of processed meat increases risk by 20%. Two 4-ounce portions of red meet a week should be safe; even then, choose lean cuts, trim away excess fat, and avoid charring your meat on a grill. Limit processed, cured, and salted meats as much as possible. Substitute fish and chicken or turkey for red meat as your main protein source, and experiment with beans and lentils as a source of protein, fiber, and vitamins.

Chronic alcohol consumption has been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. Alcohol can cause cellular damage and inflammation in the colon. It also disrupts the gut microbiota, leading to dysbiosis (an imbalance of beneficial bacteria in the gut). Imbalances in the gut microbiota can impair immune function, increase inflammation, and promote the growth of harmful bacteria.

Supporting the liver is incredibly important. Around 25% of US adults have the most common type of fatty liver disease, called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In addition to being linked with colorectal cancer metastasis, NAFLD is also associated with an increased risk of several cancers, including liver cancer. Colorectal cancer often spreads to the liver, and once it does, it becomes incredibly difficult to treat. Now, a new study has shown that fatty liver disease appears to create the perfect environment for metastatic colorectal cancer to thrive in the liver. Diet plays a significant role in the development and progression of NAFLD. Focus on a whole food nutrient dense diet low in refined sugars, inflammatory fats, and processed, foods. Managing blood sugar especially in those with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. Incorporating green tea, milk thistle, coffee, turmeric, and ginger are a few examples of additions that I may include in a clients protocol to support a healthy liver. 

  1. Regular physical activity. Exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  2. Smoking cessation. Smoking is a known risk factor for colon cancer, including smoking cannabis.
  3. Maintaining a healthy weight. Obesity and excess body fat are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. Dietary modifications, exercise, and behavior change strategies to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  4. Prioritizing sleep. Circadian rhythm is so important our body essentially operate on a sleep wake cycle. It has been proven that cell proliferation, differentiation, apoptosis, and DNA repair mechanisms have different day and night activities. Some authors have investigated carcinogenesis related to chronic sleep deprivation or disruption of circadian rhythm. Hrushesky et al. have shown that nightshift workers, both men and women, have 50 % risk of developing colon cancer.
  5. Prioritize stress management. The idea that frequent, chronic, or excessive stress can affect the human body by increasing the risk of developing a disease is not new. Chronic stress suppresses the adaptive immunity, thus making the body vulnerable to inflammatory, neoplastic, and autoimmune diseases
Published On: April 12, 2024Categories: Uncategorized

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