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Diagnosis: Colorectal cancer

Each year, cancer of the colon or rectum is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S. But the outlook is bright: Experts are studying many ways to prevent this cancer that attacks the digestive system.

Recently, there has been about a 51 percent increase in colorectal cancer among those younger than age 50. Choices you make today could protect you against this disease.

6 Lifelong Habits

Research shows that the following tactics may help prevent colon cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and participate in regular physical activity.
  • Limit your intake of red meat and animal fats.
  • Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Curb your alcohol consumption.
  • Quit (or never start) smoking cigarettes.
  • Take calcium supplements.
The 7th Strategy: Screenings

Colon cancer may cause symptoms, including:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Recurrent stomach pain or cramping
  • Stools narrower than usual
  • Unexplained weight loss

But colon cancer does not always produce symptoms, especially at first. That’s why regular screenings are so important. The American Cancer Society recommends people with an average risk for colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45, while the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force advises beginning screening at age 50. If you have an increased risk for colorectal cancer, you may need to get tested at an earlier age. People at increased risk include:

  • Individuals with a personal or family history of colon cancer or polyps, which are precancerous growths in the colon or rectum
  • Anyone with inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease

Talk with your health care provider about when to begin screening and which test is best for you. Screening options include:

  • Fecal occult blood test
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Double contrast barium enema

Dr. George Zacharia is hematologist and oncologist for Crescent City Physicians. He completed his doctorate at Louisiana State University School of Medicine in Shreveport. He also completed his residency at Ochsner Clinic Foundation, and his fellowship at Lenox Hill Hospital.