Colon cancer is often called the silent killer because it grows for years in the lower intestine before it is large enough to create symptoms. Colorectal cancer is also one of the most preventable of the hundreds of types of cancer but is said to affect around 96,000 people in the United States ever year. (Source: Feinstein, ed. 1996) While prevention is the key, once the cancer is detected, early treatment can be effective and typically involves surgery to remove the cancer itself as well as chemotherapy, radiation, or a treatment. A healthy diet will also be key to recovery and to remaining cancer free as well. In fact, a healthy diet is crucial to prevention of colon cancer in the first place.
The symptoms that you feel with colon cancer may depend on where the tumor is growing and how large it has become and can include fatigue and weakness (right side of the colon), alternating constipation and diarrhea, a nagging abdominal pain, and blood streaked or black appearing stools.
There are several tests that are recommended for all people, starting at age 40 and those in the high risk categories should be tested more frequently or may need to start getting tested sooner. The earlier this cancer is found the easier its treatment may be.
A digital rectal exam should be done as part of the annual physical every year starting at 40. The fecal occult blood test should be done every year after age 50. A flexible sigmoidoscopy which not only looks for but can remove precancerous polyps should be done every three to five years, depending on risk factors, after age 50. A barium enema may also be recommended with suspicious or inconclusive results suggesting the need for a colonoscopy, however experts are now suggesting that the barium enema step be skipped and the colonoscopy performed at regular intervals instead. (Source: The American Cancer Society)
The high risk category for colon cancer includes: those who have had precancerous or cancerous polyps in the past, family history of colon cancer before age 60 or those who themselves have had ovarian or endometrial cancer before age 50. Heredity plays a role in about 20% of all colon cancers in the United States, however there are other risk factors as well. These include: inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. A diet that is high in fat but low in fiber is also a major risk factor for the disease. (Source: Ammer 2005)
The Best Colon Cancer Prevention Diet
A high fiber, low fat diet is the best way to prevent colon cancer and should include a variety of fruits and vegetables so that you get a rainbow of vitamins and minerals for all the antioxidant power. Fiber is thought to help harmful compounds get pushed through the digestive system before they have a chance to cause any kind of harm and before they get a chance to settle into the walls of the intestine and start building any of the growths that can turn to cancer. The aim of the high fiber diet is to produce one significant bowel movement or more, every day. Good sources of fiber include beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. You can opt for a fiber supplement if you are afraid that you are not getting enough.
In addition to plenty of fiber, your healthy diet should include enough water and sources of water to prevent constipation. When fiber is eaten it swells and becomes bulky as it heads down the digestive tract. It sweeps the intestinal walls as it goes, picking up the waste products and harmful substances that have been left behind from previous meals.
Without enough water, the stools can become hard and will not flow through the system correctly leading to constipation and possibly to an impaction. A fecal impaction can lead to a serious medical emergency which may, if warranted, require surgery. Just as you can tell that you are getting enough fiber if you have to move your bowels at least once per day, you can tell if you are getting enough water if you have to urinate every two to three hours. The urine should be very light in color with no discernible odor. Dark, concentrated urine and a strong odor can indicate a bladder infection even without other symptoms.
Red meat should be avoided with protein coming from lean, healthier choices including plant proteins. Red meats are high in dangerous saturated fats and calories. You can eat a small portion of red meat if you cannot give it up completely, however it should be limited to once or twice a week at most. The same suggestion goes for alcohol, which should also be limited to only a drink or two, a week.
A healthy diet should also include enough of the minerals calcium and magnesium which may need to be supplemented in some cases, to make sure that there is enough in the system. Be wary of alternative cures or treatments that suggest that you can take excessively high doses of certain vitamins and be cancer free without surgery or other treatments, not only have they been shown not to work, they may be even more dangerous in the long run.
Your healthy diet should start with the basics of all good nutrition: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.
Proteins — Protein is a part of every single cell in the body and is needed for the role it plays in every function. While it is necessary to build and repair lean muscle mass, protein is also important for sleep, digestion, and the act of ovulation. We can get our protein from foods and from protein supplements and we should get the right amount determined by our age, our gender, our health, and our activity level. A good guideline is about .6 grams per kilogram of body weight and the American Heart Association recommends that we get no more than 35% of our daily calories from protein of any source.
Protein comes from two sources, plants and animals. Animal proteins are all complete because they supply the eight essential amino acids that humans cannot produce in their own body. These eight (leucine, isoleucine, valine, threonine, methione, tryptophan, phenylalanine, and lysine) are broken down during digestion and used to make other amino acids, hormones and enzymes to be used throughout the body. Animal proteins include both meat and non-meat sources and should be as lean as possible. The egg is considered to be the perfect protein and all others are evaluated against it. All of the protein in the egg is digested and used by the body giving it a 100% on the bioavailability score. Low fat milk, cheese, and other dairy products are good sources of protein, calcium, and other nutrients. Low fat milk, especially chocolate milk has been called one of the perfect after-exercise drinks because it can help in muscle recovery.
Plant proteins are not complete, with the exception of soy because they lack one or more of the essential amino acids. It is a myth that vegetarians or vegans are protein deficient, as long as they are getting a variety of plant materials, especially soy, they will get more than enough protein. Soy protein also has the benefit of being heart healthy and can help to lower the blood cholesterol as part of a healthy diet.
Protein supplements can be added and are especially beneficial to those who have gone through surgery for colon cancer. The body needs extra protein when it is ill or recovering as well as for those who are going through chemotherapy and/or radiation. The supplement that you choose should have plenty of protein, other nutrients and be appealing so that you will actually drink it. Profect, from Protica is small, so it only takes a few seconds to drink it, however it supplies a full 25 grams of protein per serving and comes in a number of appealing, fruit based flavors.