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February 28, 2006 > Screening and Lifestyle Reduce Risk of Colorectal Cancer

Screening and Lifestyle Reduce Risk of Colorectal Cancer

Washington Hospital Class Focuses on Prevention and Treatment

by Washington Hospital

The tragedy of colorectal cancer is that dying from the disease is largely preventable, yet it is the second leading cause of death from cancer for both men and women, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

"No one should have to die from colorectal cancer if patients and doctors do what they ought to, which is screening," said Dr. Anmol S. Mahal, a gastroenterologist at Washington Hospital and president-elect of the California Medical Association.

Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or rectum. The exact cause is not known, but there are certain risk factors that make it more likely someone will develop the disease. Age is a factor. Colorectal cancer is more likely to occur as people get older. More than 90 percent of people with the disease were diagnosed after age 50. Polyps, which are growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum, can increase a person's risk of getting colorectal cancer. Not all polyps become cancerous, but nearly all colorectal cancer starts as polyps.

The parents, siblings and children of a person who has had colorectal cancer are more likely to develop the cancer themselves. This is especially true if the relative had cancer at a young age. Diet also appears to be associated with the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Studies suggest that diets high in fat and low in calcium, folate and fiber may increase the risk.

When colorectal cancer is first developing, there may be no symptoms. But as it grows, it can cause a change in bowel movements, abdominal discomfort, weight loss and vomiting.

To help you learn about reducing your risk for colorectal cancer, Dr. Mahal and Lorie Roffelsen, a registered dietitian at Washington Hospital, will present a special Health and Wellness seminar on Tuesday, March 7, from 1 to 3 p.m. The seminar will be held at the Conference Center adjacent to Washington Hospital's Nakamura Clinic at 33077 Alvarado-Niles Road in Union City. To register - which is required to attend - please call (800) 963-7070. Dr. Mahal will discuss screening and treatment while Roffelsen will address healthy eating and lifestyle choices.

Screening Offers Lifesaving Benefits

Screening for cancer before you have symptoms can save your life. It allows physicians to find and remove polyps early, often before they are cancerous. Also, treatment is much more effective when the disease is found early.

"Everyone should have a colonoscopy screening when they turn 50, and then every five years after that," Mahal said.

A colonoscopy is a procedure that allows the physician to examine inside the rectum and the entire colon using a long, lighted tube. Any polyps found during the procedure are removed.

Like other cancers, lifestyle choices and healthy eating can also help reduce your risk. Choosing a diet rich in plant-based foods, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active, drinking alcohol only in moderation, selecting foods low in salt, and never using tobacco all help improve your chances of living a healthy, cancer-free life.

It's also important to avoid processed foods that are often high in fat and salt, as well as red meat. Roffelsen suggests getting a larger percentage of protein from plant-based foods like legumes.

Studies continue to show the benefits of vitamins, minerals, fiber, phytochemicals, antioxidants and other nutrients found in fruits and vegetables. But scientists are still not clear how they interact with each other to prevent disease.

"There is no magic food that I can say 'eat this and you won't get colorectal cancer,'" Roffelsen said. "You need to eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables so that you are getting a wide variety of nutrients to stay healthy."

To learn more about colorectal cancer and healthy eating, register to attend the Health and Wellness class on Tuesday, March 7.

For more information about the upcoming talk or other classes offered at Washington Hospital, call (800) 963-7070 or visit, click on "For Our Community" and select "Health Classes & Support Groups" from the drop-down menu.

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