Laurie Marbas, M.D.
Rifle, CO Colorado

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March 13, 2013
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Can nutrition decrease your risks of colon cancer?

March is National Nutrition month and National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month. How are nutrition and colorectal cancer related?

First, let's look at the facts of colorectal cancer, or colon cancer for short. Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among both American men and women. It starts in the colon or rectum and often does not have any symptoms.

However, some symptoms include bloody stools, unrelenting abdominal pain or unexplained weight loss. Risk factors include age over 50, inflammatory bowel disease, family history of colon cancer or polyps (pre-cancerous), genetic diseases such as Lynch syndrome, obesity, alcohol and tobacco use, a low-fiber and high-fat diet, sedentary lifestyle and low fruit and vegetable intake.

In 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 6,950 new cases of colon cancer were diagnosed in Colorado, or about 430 new cases for every 100,000 Coloradans. Of those diagnosed each year, about 152 will die from it. So, how do we prevent this horrible disease?

The answer is prevention with lifestyle changes and screening at age 50 with a colonoscopy every 10 years until age 75, annual fecal occult blood tests or flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years.

If people would get screened at 50 years old, or earlier if you have family or genetic risk factors, 60 percent of colon cancer deaths could be avoided. Screening allows the removal of precancerous polyps that take about five years to turn into cancer. In addition, increasing fiber in the diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol use and stopping smoking can decrease risks of developing colon cancer.

What if you do not have insurance to cover screening? The Center for Disease Control's Colorectal Cancer Control Program is intended to increase screening rates of insured and uninsured individuals. To be eligible for participation in the program, adults must be between 50-64 years of age and at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. Since 2009, the program has screened 20,000 people and found 2,917 cases of precancerous adenomatous polyps and 50 cancers. The program can be reached at 866-227-7914.

What are the most fibrous foods to include in your diet to help prevent colon cancer and how much fiber do you need? Fiber is only found in plant foods and cannot be digested by the body. It is recommended that women consume at least 21-25 grams per day and men should eat 30-38 grams per day. According to the National Fiber Council, Americans only consume about half of what is needed. Beans are at the top of the chart with split peas having 16.3 grams per 1 cup, followed by lentils, black beans and lima beans. Other high fibrous foods include vegetables: artichoke, green peas, broccoli, turnip greens, and Brussels sprouts. Fruits like raspberries, pears and apples along with whole grains and nuts also contain fiber.

Now that you have the facts, start improving your health today by increasing your consumption of plant-based foods and discussing your particular history and personal risks with your health care provider.

Dr. Laurie Marbas is a family physician at Grand River Hospital and Medical Center in Rifle.

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The Post Independent Updated Mar 13, 2013 05:42PM Published Mar 13, 2013 05:41PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.