The American Cancer Society has recently lowered the recommended age to get a colon cancer screening from 50 to 45. Insurance companies have not made an official statement on the change in the recommended age to begin screening, so it’s up to each patient to determine their official coverage before age 50. Before scheduling a screening, make sure to speak with your insurance company to make sure the procedure is covered. No matter what age you are, it’s never too early to start thinking about preventative measures to beat cancer. Unlike some other cancers and illnesses, it’s more and more apparent that lifestyle factors (such as your diet) have a large impact on cancer, especially colon cancer. Read on to learn about some of the measures you can take, and how to choose the right test when it is time for your first screening.
Diet, Diet, Diet
Most likely, you remember learning about diet in grade school, beginning with the five basic food groups. Physicians and teachers have been urging you to eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly–even if you already do. Even as far back as 1994, studies have been warning patients about the risk factors for colon cancer. While having a healthy body weight and being physically fit helps reduce your risk, physicians are also reminding patients that it’s what you eat that is important as well.
The first thing you should cut back or eliminate from your diet is red meat. Having frequent samplings of red meat such as beef, pork, and lamb has been linked to high instances of colon cancer. If you’re worried about protein, there are many other sources from which to get protein, such as poultry (chicken or turkey), fish, and grains such as quinoa. In fact, having a diet that’s high in whole grains is one of the staples of a cancer-preventing, healthy diet. Choose large servings of beans, grains, and leafy greens as part of your weekly consumption to not only look and feel better, but to help keep colon cancer at bay.
A diet high in red meat has been found to negatively impact women most of all. In recent guidelines published by the American Institute for Cancer Research and World Cancer Research Fund International, women especially were advised to keep red meat intake to under one pound per week. Women’s risk of developing distal colon cancer (a form of cancer that appears in the descending part of the colon) is particularly high.
Being physically fit is also important. For some, it can be tough to find the time and the motivation. Even going for a brisk walk three times a week, 45 minutes at a time, can help get your heart pumping and keep you in shape. Most gyms carry only a small monthly fee and provide the option to jump on the treadmill a few times a week.
Other lifestyle choices you can make to help prevent colon cancer include drinking alcohol responsibly and quitting tobacco. Incidences of colon cancer have been higher in those who drink heavily as well as cigarette smokers. If you need help quitting either one of these substances, reach out to your primary care physician for aids like patches or gum, or call a support line to help you kick the habit.
Choosing the Right Test
If you’re between the ages of 45 and 50 and you’ve heard about the new guidelines, you may be considering a colon cancer screening right away. In fact, the new guidelines may have you nervous enough to opt for an at-home test to help ease your mind a bit.
At-home tests require the use of you working with your own stool, and they look for DNA or blood in the stool (also known as FIT). Unfortunately, these take-home tests are not always very accurate, and often miss important pieces of the puzzle, such as cancerous polyps that do not bleed. In fact, at-home tests are only roughly 92% effective when the DNA test is used, and 73% effective at finding cancer when the FIT test is used. Both tests are ineffective when looking for precancerous polyps, while colonoscopies frequently find polyps before they become cancerous. In addition to lower accuracy rates, at-home tests could be more costly in the long run. If your insurance covers an at-home test, and that test has a positive result, a colonoscopy will be required. Most insurance companies will not cover this diagnostic colonoscopy.
Scheduling a colonoscopy appointment with your gastroenterologist is the best way to ease your fears, as this thorough colon cancer screening can find precancerous polyps as well as present colon cancer. A colonoscopy tests the entire length of the colon, checking all areas for possible colon cancer. While patients may feel a little nervous about the procedure, it is a very safe procedure with sedation. We can also help put your anxiety at ease before, during, and after the procedure. To learn more about how to make healthy lifestyle changes to protect yourself from colon cancer, or to learn more about colonoscopy or colon cancer screening, schedule an appointment with Cary Gastroenterology today and prevent colon cancer.