A driver who sees a flashing sign warning about dangerous road conditions is likely to slow down or even switch to an alternate route.
When it comes to colon cancer, though, many people ignore warnings and fail to make lifestyle course corrections that could prevent a health catastrophe. Cancer of the colon or rectum affects both men and women and is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The American Cancer Society projects 95,270 new cases of colon cancer will be diagnosed in 2016 and more than 49,000 will die from the disease this year. The good news is the death rate has dropped steadily for several decades, primarily thanks to better and earlier screening. Today there are more than 1 million colon cancer survivors in the U.S.
In Phoenix, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), is at the forefront of trying to understand the role of genetics in colon cancer.
“Despite family history of colon cancer as a factor, most cases are not hereditary,” explained Dr. Cheryl Cropp, assistant professor in the Integrated Cancer Genomics Division at TGen and the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy. “Incidence of colon cancer is higher in men than women and in individuals of African-American descent. It is closely associated with living a western lifestyle.”
Screening helps doctors find and remove abnormal precancerous polyp growths. Screening also finds this cancer early, when treatment can be most effective. The National Cancer Institute reports there are several types of tests that can detect colon cancer, and it recommends screenings at regular intervals after age 50.
Exercise and lose weight
Obesity can cause changes in the colon that might lead to colorectal cancer, suggests a study published in the Cell Metabolism journal in 2014. The finding bolsters other research that indicates calorie control and frequent exercise are key strategies to lower the risk for colon cancer.
Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains
“Though there is conflicting research as to whether or not fiber has protective effects against colorectal cancer, there is evidence that fiber intake improves overall health by moving wastes through the digestive tract faster,” reports webmd.com.
That means potentially toxic substances spend less time in your colon. High levels of fat consumption are also suspected to increase colon cancer risks.
A study tracking more than 134,000 patients over 30-plus years found a significant link between colon cancer and alcohol, according to doctorshealthpress.com. The risk was highest among people who drank 30 or more grams of alcohol daily — slightly more than two average drinks.
A report from the U.S. Surgeon General in 2014 concluded that there is a causal link between smoking and cancers of the colon and rectum. The study noted that, while the incidence of smoking decreased by 50 percent since the first surgeon general smoking report in 1964, it remains the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.
Progress is being made
Many of the biggest advancements in medicine are connected to genetic research. Advances in genetics have the potential to revolutionize how physicians diagnose and treat illness.
“If you catch it early enough, your odds of survival are greatly improved. Early detection is the key,” explained Craig Jackson, the CEO of Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auctions. Mr. Jackson founded the Barrett-Jackson Cancer Research Fund at TGen to find better treatments for colon cancer. “Colonoscopy is not that big of a deal. It’s the easiest thing you can do, especially if it saves your life.”
Thanks to the Barrett-Jackson Cancer Research Fund, TGen scientists are studying the DNA of colon cancer victims to identify genetic alterations linked to cancer risk. With genetic information learned in the process, TGen clinical scientists can apply newly developed treatment strategies that target the genetic blueprint of individual patients.
Even though genetic research may result in new and successful treatment strategies for colorectal cancer, the best approach is for people to make lifestyle and behavior changes to minimize their risk of succumbing to this deadly threat.
Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) is a Phoenix, Arizona-based non-profit organization dedicated to conducting groundbreaking research with life changing results. TGen is focused on helping patients with neurological disorders, cancer, and diabetes, through cutting edge translational research (the process of rapidly moving research towards patient benefit). TGen physicians and scientists work to unravel the genetic components of both common and rare complex diseases in adults and children. Working with collaborators in the scientific and medical communities literally worldwide, TGen makes a substantial contribution to help our patients through efficiency and effectiveness of the translational process. For more information, visit: www.tgen.org. Follow TGen on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter @TGen.