|Julio Garcia-Aguilar (Photo by Walter Urie)|
Colon cancer usually can be detected easily with regular screening, and it’s highly treatable if found early. Even better, simple healthy choices can significantly lower your risk of developing the disease. Julio Garcia-Aguilar, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Surgery, is a noted expert on colon cancer research and treatment. He offers up more information about the disease, how it’s treated and what you can do to keep yourself safe.
eHope: What is colon cancer?
Julio Garcia-Aguilar, M.D., Ph.D.: Colon cancer is a growth that develops in the lining of the large bowel, also known as the colon and rectum. These growths initially are benign and known as polyps. With time, they grow through the bowel wall into the surrounding tissues. Then we call them cancer. Once they become cancer, they might spread to other organs such as the liver and lungs.
EH: How common is the disease?
JG-A: Cancers of the colon and rectum are the third most common for both men and women. And they’re the second most common cause of cancer death in the U.S., second only to lung cancer. It’s important to note that colorectal cancer is not just a men’s or women’s cancer; it affects both.
EH: What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
JG-A: Perhaps surprisingly, colon cancers have very few or no symptoms in their earliest stages, when they are polyps or have not grown much. Once they advance, however, the most common symptoms are abdominal pain, bloody stool and anemia, which is a low level of iron in the blood.
EH: Can diet play a factor in colon cancer prevention?
JG-A: There is a clear connection between how much fat, in particular animal fat, we eat and our risk of developing colon cancer. More fat equals a higher risk. On the other hand, eating fresh fruits and vegetables seems to have the opposite effect, lowering risk.
EH: Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk of colon cancer?
JG-A: There are several things that you can do: reduce the amount of animal fat in your diet; eat more fruits and vegetables; quit smoking; and exercise. In addition, everyone should be screened for colon cancer starting at age 50, or sooner if you have a family history of the disease.