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Colorectal cancer is preventable: Cleveland Clinic officials say there are actions you can take to lower your risk

Colorectal cancer, often referred to as colon cancer, affects both men and women and is the third most common cancer in The Bahamas. It is also the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in The Bahamas, according to Cleveland Clinic officials. With more than 49 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer in The Bahamas, in 2020, Cleveland Clinic officials say colorectal cancer is actually preventable.

“You can’t prevent breast, lung or brain cancer in the same way,” said Dr. David Liska, colorectal surgeon at Cleveland Clinic’s main campus in Ohio. “You can’t take precancerous polyps off any of those organs like you can with the large intestine.”

Colorectal cancer is a malignant tumor on the lining of the large intestine. It’s one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in The Bahamas. But it’s also highly treatable and curable when doctors find it early.

“Colonoscopies save lives,” said. Liska. Starting at age 45, everyone should get regular screenings with either a colonoscopy or one of the other recommended screening tests. That’s when colorectal cancer risk starts increasing.

When you’re high-risk:
If colorectal cancer or advanced precancerous polyps run in your family, talk to your doctor about starting screenings earlier than what’s generally recommended. Colonoscopy math works like this: Take the age of the youngest affected relative when they were diagnosed with advanced precancerous polyps or cancer. Subtract 10 years from that age. That’s when you should start having colonoscopies and continue them every five years. So, if your father had advanced precancerous polyps at age 50, you would begin colonoscopies at age 40.

Benefits of a colonoscopy:
“Every colon and rectal cancer arises from a precancerous polyp or other precancerous lesion and it takes 10 years on average for a benign polyp to become cancerous,” said the doctor. “A colonoscopy allows doctors to find and remove colon polyps before they’re a problem.”

Regular colonoscopies prevent the majority of colorectal cancers. And in the United States, the rate of colorectal cancer diagnosed in patients over the age of 50 is decreasing. This decrease is largely due to screening and prevention by polypectomy, according to the hospital officials. On the flip side, research shows that nearly all unscreened people know they should get a colonoscopy but still don’t.

“Sadly, every patient who walks into my office with colorectal cancer had a polyp that could have been removed,” said Liska. “They missed the boat for some reason or another — they were too scared, their family doctor didn’t recommend it, their insurance company wouldn’t pay for it, or they had a colonoscopy, and their doctor didn’t see the polyp.”

And they say there’s more to colorectal cancer prevention than the dreaded pre-colonoscopy bowel prep. Liska shares six ways you can lower your colorectal cancer risk — and keep your colon and rectum working as they should:

A better colonoscopy experience
: Colonoscopies have undergone a mini-makeover, in recent years, with researchers working hard to improve the patient experience:

Prep “light”
: Lower-volume options and split doses of osmotic laxatives (half the night before/half in the morning) are now available, making the prep more bearable.

Sweet dreams:
While people may fear pain or inadequate sedation, 99 percent of patients are sedated enough (conscious sedation or twilight sleep) to be comfortable during their colonoscopy. Most don’t even remember it.

Fast, but not furious:
They last 30 minutes, then you’re done. Typically, it takes 10 to 12 minutes to get the scope in comfortably and 12 minutes or so to take it out. That’s shorter than an episode of your favorite television sitcom. Full disclosure: It takes longer if doctors need to remove polyps, depending on the number and size of them.

Safety first:
Colonoscopies are safe. When performed by specially trained professionals, the risk of perforation and bleeding is very low. “Get an experienced colonoscopist,” Liska recommends. “Somebody who knows how to recognize polyps and remove them in the safest way possible.”

You are what you eat:
Add eating more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, nuts and beans. They are linked to a lower risk of some cancers and can help you have healthy bowel function. Limit red meat and high-fat or processed meats, which can increase your colon cancer risk.

Be a weight watcher:
Check your body mass index (BMI) regularly. Your risk of colon cancer increases if you’re overweight or obese. A BMI of 25 or higher can put you in the danger zone.

Sweat more:
Do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise five days a week. This will help you maintain a healthy weight and stay stress-free, which can decrease cancer risk. Examples of moderate-intensity exercise for a healthy adult include a brisk walk, gardening or doubles tennis.

Limit liquor:
Keep an eye on your alcohol consumption, which is a general cancer risk factor. The recommended limits are one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

Be a quitter: On top of many other health risks, smoking increases your risk of colon cancer, so take steps to quit right away.

It’s not every day we learn that cancer can be prevented. By taking health-conscious steps, you will lessen your chances of developing colorectal cancer.

To get started with screening, Dr. Dana Sands, colorectal surgeon at Cleveland Clinic Florida’s Weston Hospital, said colon screening is recommended for all average-risk men and women at the age of 45.

“This gives us a chance to detect abnormal growths in the colon or rectum early, so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer,” said Sands.

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