Colorectal Cancer Archive


Ask the doctor: New DNA-based test for colorectal cancer

Q. I heard that there is a new stool test for colon cancer screening. Can this test replace colonoscopy for me? I am 68 years old with no history of colon problems, and my last colonoscopy was normal.



A. Among screening tests for hidden colorectal cancer, colonoscopy remains the "gold standard" because it's the most effective technique for detecting colon cancers and simultaneously provides an opportunity to remove any precancerous growths (polyps). The new DNA-based stool test (Cologuard) is less invasive and inconvenient than colonoscopy and finds more cancers and polyps than older stool tests, but it does not entirely eliminate the need for colonoscopies.

Switching to a fiber-rich diet may lower colon cancer risk in blacks

Switching from a “Western” diet with lots of fat and meat to a fiber-rich diet for just two weeks makes conditions in the large intestine less favorable to the development of colon cancer. The opposite switch may promote the formation of cancer. That’s the conclusion from a small but elegant study done in urban Pittsburgh and rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. In the study, 20 volunteers from each area switched diets. For two weeks, the Americans ate a traditional high-fiber African diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and beans, while the Africans ate a Western diet with more fat, protein, and meat. In just two weeks, significant changes occurred in the lining of the colon and in its chemical and bacterial make-up in both groups, but in different directions. Those following the African diet showed improvements in colon health likely to protect against colon cancer, while those following the Western diet showed changes that could lead to colon cancer.

Vegetarian diet linked to lower colon cancer risk

Looking for ways to ward off colorectal cancer? According to a new study, a pescovegetarian diet — that’s a vegetarian diet that includes fish — was linked to a 43% reduction in the risk of developing colorectal cancer. The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, adds more support to the notion that something in red meat, or the way it is cooked, encourages the growth of colorectal cancer. It’s also possible that eating more plant foods provides extra beneficial nutrients such as folate, calcium, and fiber that may protect against colorectal cancer. Fish contain healthful omega-3 fats and vitamin D. Another good strategy for preventing harm from colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States? Have colonoscopies as needed.

Ask the doctor: Aspirin and cancer prevention

Image: Thinkstock

Q. I've heard that aspirin helps prevent colon cancer. Do you recommend it?

A. Research has found that taking aspirin regularly is associated with a lower risk of colon cancer. However, aspirin also raises the risk of bleeding, including some relatively rare bleeds that cause strokes. In addition, we don't yet have a way to identify who might get the most anti-cancer benefit from taking aspirin.

Do older adults need colorectal cancer screenings?

Image: Thinkstock 

Some people may need the screening well into their 80s.

Keeping your gut healthy as you get older takes more than exercising and eating the right diet. You must also undergo occasional screenings for colorectal cancer (CRC). But is there a point when you can stop getting routine screenings? "It's not a simple issue. It really depends on the person who needs the screening," says gastroenterologist Dr. Jacqueline Wolf, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Ask the doctor: Is your cancer risk genetic?

Q. My father had lymphoma and my mother had colon cancer. Does that mean I'll get cancer, too?

A. Both lymphoma—cancer of the white blood cells—and colon cancer run in families. That means that if a first-degree relative—your parent, sibling, or child—has developed the cancer, your risk of getting the cancer is greater than the average person's. However, it does not mean that you will definitely get the cancer. Indeed, the odds are you won't. But your risk is increased.

5 simple steps that may help prevent colorectal cancer

Screenings, exercise, and vitamin D may reduce your risks.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States. It refers to cancer of either the colon, also known as the large intestine, or the rectum, the last six inches of the digestive system. There's no guaranteed way to prevent the disease, but Dr. Charles Fuchs, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, says the following steps may help.

How to prevent colorectal cancer

Image: Thinkstock

Simple strategies can help you avoid this common cancer.

Colorectal cancer prevention starts with getting colonoscopies once every 10 years (or more often, depending on your risks), but it shouldn't end there. You can do a lot more to lower your risk for this disease, which is the third most common cancer in both women and men. Here are a few easy cancer-prevention steps you can incorporate into each day.

Studies reinforce life-saving benefits of colon cancer screening

Checking seemingly healthy people for cancer—what doctors call screening—seems like a simple process: Perform a test and either find cancer early and cure it or don’t find it and breathe easy. It works for colon, breast, and cervical cancers, but not for others. For colon cancer, there are several effective screening tests: colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and stool testing. Two new studies in yesterday’s New England Journal of Medicine help further quantify their benefits. In the studies, all three types of test reduced the risk of developing or dying from colon cancer. Colonoscopy worked best, followed by sigmoidoscopy and then stool testing. The biggest challenge for colon cancer screening is getting people to have the available tests. About 50,000 Americans die of colon cancer each year—many of these can be prevented with early screening.

Taking aspirin linked to lower risk of colorectal cancer

Aspirin has many uses, from easing a headache or cooling a fever to preventing heart attacks and the most common kind of stroke. It may be time to add “preventing colorectal cancer” to the list. New results from the Women’s Health Study, a clinical trial that evaluated the benefits and risks of low-dose aspirin and vitamin E among nearly 40,000 women, show that aspirin reduces the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 20%. The effect isn’t immediate, but instead takes ten to 20 years to be seen. Aspirin isn’t without its drawbacks, including gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcer formation. Both occurred slightly more often among women taking aspirin. Although the Women’s Health Study results sound promising, don’t go reaching for the aspirin bottle just yet. Taking aspirin—and any other drug—is really a balancing act between benefits and risks.

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