Colon cancer can grow for years without causing any symptoms at all and is often referred to as the silent killer. Thought to affect some 96,000 people in the United States every year, the disease typically is noticed after it starts causing problems in the body, which can often happen after it has progressed past the treatable stage. Some symptoms will be noticed depending on where the tumor is growing as well as its size. If it is on the right side of the color, typical symptoms can include weakness while on the left side, fatigue, the symptoms can include alternating diarrhea and constipation, nagging, crampy abdominal pain and stools that appear black or blood streaked.
Testing for colon cancer should be started at age 40 however, for those who are considered to be in higher risk categories, these tests should be done sooner. The digital rectal exam, during which a gloved finger is inserted into the rectum is one of the first tests that are done and looks for the presence of blood, which can indicate a further problem. The earlier that the colon cancer is found, the better the chance for treatment and recovery. Secondary testing should start at or around age 50 and can include the flexible sigmoidoscopy, used to look for and remove precancerous polyps and should be done every three to five years. The colonoscopy should be at established intervals but there is some controversy about how the process should be done. Originally, a barium enema was included in the process, however it is now recommended that this step be eliminated in favor of more frequent testing. (Source: The American Cancer Society)
Risk factors for colon cancer include precancerous or cancerous polyps in the past, family history of colon or other types of cancer before the age of 60 and those who themselves have also had other types of cancer at a young age (defined as before age 50). In as many as 20% of all colon cancers, heredity did play a role, but there are additional risk factors including inflammatory bowel disease. Diet may also play a very large role in colon cancer with diets that are elevated levels of fat and low in fiber considered to be a chief risk factor.
Eating Better to Prevent Colon Cancer
Because diet plays such a large role in colon cancer, it is important to start a high fiber, lower fat diet. Including a wide variety of fruits and vegetables gives you the fiber that you need as well as the vitamins and minerals that are essential for good health. Fiber plays a major role in helping the body eliminate harmful compounds that can build up inside of the digestive system before they get caught up in the walls of the intestine and start damaging the tissue and causing problems.
Good sources of fiber include beans, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, however most people do not get enough fiber even in an otherwise healthy diet and may need a fiber supplement to get the right amount. In addition to the right amount of fiber in the diet, the healthy diet should have enough water or sources of water to help prevent constipation. Fiber swells and becomes bulky in the digestive system and sweeps the intestinal walls as it moves along, pushing along the waste products and other harmful substances left from previous meals. Without sufficient water, the fiber-rich diet can create stools that are hard, dry and painful to pass and may cause bleeding, which may mask certain diseases, including colon cancer. Even worse, the stools may not be completely eliminated, leading to a fecal impaction, which can be a medical emergency and may require surgery. Finally, not getting enough water can lead to dehydration, which can also be a medical emergency.
Protein, another important nutrient, should be a fairly high portion of the daily calories, but should come from lean and healthy sources. Red meat, while high in protein, is also high in calories and saturated fats as well. If you do not want to give up red meat completely, you should limit yourself to small servings no more than twice a week. In addition to watching the saturated fat content in red meat, alcohol should be limited as well.
In addition to needing to supplement fiber to get enough, some people may find themselves needing to include protein supplements for better health as well. Protein supplements can include shakes, powders and other sources, however some of these may have too much of ingredients that are not beneficial and should be avoided. Some protein bars, for instance, have been found to have high amounts of sugars, which can be problematic for a number of reasons. Another supplement option is Profect, a protein shot from Protica. Less than three fluid ounces in size, each serving of Profect gives a full 25 grams of protein without any carbohydrates or fats and only 100 calories.
Colon Cancer and Diet: A Case Study
Joe knows that his family history puts him at higher risk for a number of conditions and diseases. He is surprised to learn, however, that his own diet is increasing his risk for colon cancer. He has a preliminary test that reveals some troubling findings. The doctor sends him for further testing and those results show a few precancerous polyps. To be safe, the doctor chooses to send Joe in for a colonoscopy, which reveals a tumor that must be treated.
After surgery, Joe starts working toward feeling better, including eating a better and healthier diet. He will be adding in far more fruits and vegetables and reducing the amount of red meat and alcohol that he consumes each week. In addition, he is making better choices for fats, opting for healthier fats that are unsaturated.
Joe also adds in fiber and protein supplements so that he can get the right amount of those two important numbers every day. He takes his fiber supplement every morning and then uses Profect as a between meal snack.