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March 13, 2007 > When Prevention Takes Precedence

When Prevention Takes Precedence

Find Out Key Steps to Preventing Colorectal Cancer

Dr. Anmol S. Mahal, Washington Hospital Medical Staff gastroenterologist and president of the California Medical Association, the state's leading physician advocacy organization, says most people know that prevention is an important part of their health care, but nonetheless often don't practice routine health maintenance, such as colonoscopies that screen for colorectal cancer.
"The general philosophy - that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure - is a principle people believe but do not always practice," Dr. Mahal says. "The future of health care delivery is prevention. We can extend our lives and functionality enormously by participating in health maintenance. Colorectal cancer is totally preventable. It only requires a colonoscopy once every few years."
Dr. Mahal says the medical community's guidelines advise patients to begin receiving a routine colonoscopy every few years when they reach age 50, noting that it is at age 50 that the incidence of colorectal cancer begins to increase statistically.
When it comes to colorectal cancer, like so many other types of cancer, it's important to remember that catching it early almost guarantees a better outcome. As such, one of the most important tools that doctors have at their disposal to aid in early diagnosis is the colonoscopy, a test that allows the doctor to look at the interior lining of the rectum and colon, which make up the large intestine, through a narrow, flexible viewing instrument called a colonoscope.
Using this tool, your physician can detect ulcers, polyps, tumors, and areas of inflammation or bleeding and can identify and remove precancerous and cancerous growths in the colon or rectum.
Despite having such an effective tool in the fight against colorectal cancer, many patients are reluctant to undergo a procedure they expect to be unpleasant or at the very least anxiety-inducing, Dr. Mahal says. He adds that patients are not awake during the procedure.
"Patients don't want to go through the discomfort of a colonoscopy," according to Mahal. "Meanwhile, over the last 25 years, I've yet to have a patient say 'It was a lot worse than I expected.' Instead they say, 'I should have done this years ago.' I would like for the audience members who come to the seminar to serve as catalysts and go into the community and tell others about colorectal cancer prevention."
The main risk factors for colorectal cancer, according to Dr. Mahal, include a family history - especially for those with a first-degree relative that has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer; being diagnosed with ulcerative colitis; the occurrence of polyps; and being diagnosed with certain malignancies, such as breast and uterine cancers.
While the main population that is at risk for developing colorectal cancer is an older one, Dr. Mahal says it may be beneficial for some younger audience members to learn more if they have a family member that was diagnosed with colorectal cancer or if they themselves suffer from ulcerative colitis, which is a disease that causes inflammation and sores in the lining of the rectum and colon.
Colorectal cancer is not a disease for which people want to wait until they display symptoms before going to their doctor, Dr. Mahal stresses. The best method of both treating and preventing the disease is catching it long before it becomes a major health concern.
"If you wait to have a colonoscopy until you get symptoms, with a vast majority of patients, the cancer is already at an advanced stage. For obvious reasons, you would like to diagnose cancer at an early stage, or better yet diagnose cancer before it occurs. Most cancers occur within colon polyps; if you remove polyps, you reduce their incidence of developing into cancer. Removing polyps is a preventative measure taken to prevent cancer."
In addition to regular routine screenings, Dr. Mahal also notes that some lifestyle changes may affect a patient's risk of developing colorectal cancer. Taking actions such as incorporating more fiber and more raw foods and greens into your daily diet, as well as maintaining a diet that is lower in fat, may prove beneficial. There has also been some correlation between very high fat diets, especially those high in saturated fats from meat products, and an increased incidence of colorectal cancer, Dr. Mahal says.
In the end, Dr. Mahal says his message about colorectal cancer is one of hope: "No one should die from colorectal cancer as long as they participate in routine screenings. I would say close to 100 percent of cases can be prevented or cured if caught soon enough."

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To drive home the importance of prevention, Dr. Mahal and Lorie Roffelsen, a Washington Hospital Staff clinical registered dietitian, will present a free seminar about colorectal cancer and how things like routine screening and diet can virtually eliminate the chances of dying from the third leading cause of death among cancers, colorectal cancer. The Health & Wellness seminar will take place on Monday, March 19, from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Conrad E. Anderson, M.D. Auditorium, Rooms A, B & C located on the first floor of 2500 Mowry Avenue in Fremont, across the street from the main hospital.
To register for the class, call Health Connection toll free at (800) 963-7070.
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