Reducing Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer

For Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month we talked with Dr. Andy Mengshol from CU Medicine Gastroenterology in Highlands Ranch about when you should start colon cancer screenings and other ways to reduce your risk of colon cancer.

Colorectal cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the US but it’s also one of the most treatable cancers if detected early.

For Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month we talked with Dr. Andy Mengshol, with CU Medicine Gastroenterology at the Highlands Ranch Specialty Care Center about ways to prevent or reduce your risk of colon cancer.

If you need a colon cancer screening or want to be seen by someone at CU Medicine Gastroenterology, click or tap here to make an appointment.


When should you start colon cancer screenings?

Age is one of the most important risk factors for colorectal cancer, with incidence rates increasing with age, and nearly 94% of new cases of colorectal cancer occurring in those that are 45 years and older. The American Cancer Society now recommends getting regular colonoscopies at age 45 along with the US Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Gastroenterology.

If colon cancer runs in your family, talk to your doctor about starting screenings earlier, “If you do have a family history, a first-degree relative especially who’s had colon cancer, then you should start at age 40 or maybe sooner depending on when they were diagnosed,” explained Mengshol.

Actor Chadwick Boseman was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in 2016 and died in 2020 at the age of 43. His death at a young age put a spotlight on the fact that colon cancer has been increasingly affecting younger adults over the past decade, “Unfortunately, it can happen early. Often times we catch it early and it can be treated, that’s what you hope for,” added Mengshol.

Many might be nervous about getting a colonoscopy but Mengshol explained that it’s a pretty simple process, “Usually, the procedure is 20-30 minutes at the most.” The prep is often the hardest part but it’s gotten better than it used to be, “Now we do a split prep. Drink half in the evening, the night before and the rest the morning of the procedure. It’s easier to drink and also cleans the colon out better.”

The prep liquid clears your colon out so it’s easier for the doctor to find precancerous lesions, or polyps, and remove them. That removal process is something you won’t even feel.

Is it safe to get a screening during COVID-19?

Many have put off regular preventive screenings, including cancer screenings, during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you skipped your screening this last year, Mengshol said it is safe to get it done and in many cases important to try to get it done as soon as you can, “It’s safe to do screening now,” said Mengshol, “Especially if you have a family history, you don’t want to put off screening,” he added.

CU Medicine Gastroenterology is taking steps to make coming in for your screening as safe as possible, “We test all of the patients that are coming in for procedures, we’re all wearing masks and taking precautions,” said Mengshol.

Early cancer detection can really difference and it’s another reason to not put off regular screenings. The later a cancer is detected, the more serious and involved treatment becomes.

What about at home screening kits?

The best thing you can do to protect yourself and prevent colon cancer is to get screened.

While a colonoscopy is the gold standard and the best test to screen for colon cancer, there are at home kits you can do as well, “Anything that increases screening is good, so I’m definitely not against them,” Mengshol said.

A home kit might be a good option during the pandemic or if you don’t yet qualify for a colonoscopy but want to check in on your colon health. The kits are easy to use, you just gently brush the surface of a stool sample in water and then pack and mail the kit back. If it comes back positive you should follow it up with a colonoscopy.

While home testing kits are convenient there are some downsides, “They’re not quite as sensitive so there’s some chance of missing a big polyp or early cancer. The other thing that is if it comes back positive then the colonoscopy is now a diagnostic test and you may have a little more out of pocket expense,” explained Mengshol.

What else can you do to prevent or reduce your risk for colon cancer?

In addition to colonoscopies, there are other things you can do to prevent colorectal cancer.

Your risk of colon cancer also increases if you are overweight or obese. So, try to include at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, five days a week. Smoking and drinking alcohol also increases your risk of colon cancer. Women shouldn’t have more than one alcoholic drink daily and no more than two drinks per day for men. If you smoke, you should take steps to try to quit right away.

When it comes to your diet, eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans. Those food groups are linked to lower cancer risk and can help improve bowel function. Limit your intake of foods that are high in fat or processed, they can increase your risk of colon cancer.

Symptoms that may indicate colon cancer

Mengshol explained that if you have bleeding or a change in bowel habits it might be worth getting checked out by a doctor, “Bleeding, is usually from hemorrhoids but it could be cancer, a change in your bowel habits like getting more constipated or having more diarrhea can be a sign as well.”

If you need a colon cancer screening or want to be seen by someone at CU Medicine Gastroenterology, click or tap here to make an appointment.

TAGS: cancer care, colon cancer, preventative care

CATEGORIES: Cancer Care, Health Education

This post was originally posted on March 17, 2021