Colon Cancer: What You Need To Know TODAY!!

The untimely death of the wonderful actor, Chadwick Boseman, saddens me, but I want to use his death as a reminder about the tragedy of colon cancer.  Chadwick had such prominent roles in Marvel, Black Panther.  He also played pivotal figures such as James Brown, Jackie Robinson, and Thurgood Marshall.    Chadwick was 43 at the time of his death on August 28, 2020; however, he was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer four years prior.

Colon cancer is the third most prevalent cancer in the United States.  One in 23 men and one in 25 women will develop colon cancer in their lifetimes.   However, these statistics are significantly increased in those of the black.  Reasons include socio-economic disparities leading to increased risk of poor diet and access to healthcare.  Also, there are genetic components that add to 35% of the causes of colon cancer.  

Ninety percent of colon cancers are diagnosed in those over the age of 50. This fact is the reason why screening guidelines recommend screening starting after the age of 50, according to the US Preventative Services Task Force.  The American Cancer Society recommends screening starting at age 45.  Screening techniques range from stool testing to colonoscopy.

Stool Testing
Direct Visual Testing

Now, these screening recommendations would not have helped Chadwick or those diagnosed with colon cancer at younger ages.  Due to coronavirus, cancer screening procedures are down by 94%, as individuals are staying home.  The body can give clues that something is brewing.  Symptoms of colon cancer can be:

  • Sudden changes in stool: shape, color, consistency, and frequency
    • Thin ribbon stool
    • New-onset diarrhea
  • Blood in the stool or dark tarry stool
  • Abdominal pressure, pain, bloating
  • Sudden unexpected weight loss
  • Difficulty passing stool
  • Constant sensation of having to have a bowel movement
  • Fatigue, weakness, lightheadedness, dizziness, or shortness of breath

It is essential to keep up with regular health checkups and screenings with your physician.  If you develop any of these symptoms, then follow up sooner.

Risk factors for colon cancer include.

  • Age greater than 50
  • Black/ African-American
  • Obese
  • Sedentary Lifestyle
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Low fiber, high fat diet
  • Family history
  • Genetics
  • History of previous abdominal radiation

How can you prevent colon cancer

  • Follow up with regular health care visits or see a doctor as soon as you have changes
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in vegetables
    • Organic is ideal, but if not, then pick healthier fruits and vegetables here.
    • Avoid cured meats that contain nitrates such as deli meats, hot dogs, and bacon.  Find uncured substitutes
  • Exercise.  Get moving.  It doesn’t have to be a formal exercise program but find ways to be more active daily
  • Alcohol in moderation.  It is recommended that women should not have more than one glass a day and men no more than two drinks daily
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking.

Ninety percent of colon cancers found early are easily treatable.  Listen to your body.  As physicians, we rather you be safe than sorry.  If you have a concern, contact you, health practitioner.   Do not allow the fear of going out of your home due to coronavirus prevent you from getting screening exams.  Take action and be healthy.

About drbgreenleaf

Betsy A.B. Greenleaf DO, FACOOG(Distinguished) is the nations first board-certified female physician in Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery. She has dedicated her life to helping those with pelvic floor disorders. Her passion is connecting traditional medicine with alternative therapies. She believes in the mind-body connection and discovering the answers within.