An easily overlooked colon abnormality turns out to be likely to turn cancerous. It is more common than had previously been thought.
Generally, doctors search for polyps, abnormal growths that stick out from the lining of the colon. But another type of growth is both more dangerous and harder to see because it is flat and similar in color to healthy tissue.
It takes a trained and vigilant eye to see these growths, and special techniques to remove them.
Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States, causing about 52,000 deaths a year. It is one of the few cancers that is totally preventable if precancerous growths are found and removed.
I’m always amazed at the relentless advances in diagnostic technology, and how what is one day the generally accepted gold standard of care becomes hopelessly outdated the next.
Reminds me of the observation on truth:
- First it is ridiculed
- Second it is violently opposed
- Finally, it is accepted as self-evident
I have seen this a number of times in the last 25 years of practicing medicine. The most classic is what was believed to be the cause of ulcers, where the view was radically changed in the early 80s by Dr. Barry Marshall through his discovery of helicobacter. I firmly believe that many of the long established cherished “truths” of medicine will follow similar radical transformations as natural medicine principles once again become validated with scientific methods that are not manipulated by multinational corporate interests.
But let’s get to the specifics of this new finding.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States after lung cancer. According to the latest data from the CDC, more than 145,000 Americans were diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004, and more than 53,500 died from the disease.
African Americans have the highest rate of colon cancer, with 67.6 out of 100,000 men developing the disease -- more than double that of American Indians and Alaska natives at 32.6 per 100,000, as shown in the U.S. Cancer Statistics: 1999–2004 Incidence and Mortality Report.
Fortunately, it is also one of the few cancers that can be successfully treated if precancerous growths are found and removed early enough. Better yet, I believe colon cancer is completely preventable with certain lifestyle changes, which I will review with you later.
Treatment with cytotoxic chemotherapy, however, is virtually useless with only 1 percent of patients surviving the 5-year mark, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Oncology (Dec 2004;16(8):549-60).
Should You Get a Colonoscopy?
A colonoscopy involves the insertion of a lighted tube with a small camera into your bowel to visually detect colorectal cancer and precancerous polyps.
I am a strong advocate of regular screening for colon cancer. Why not have it done? It is simple and relatively painless with no radiation involved, and it can save your life if you find and remove a polyp before it has advanced to a certain stage. And unlike breast cancers, colon cancers are relatively slow growing and can easily be caught before they progress to a terminal stage.
But, as this article points out, how do you know if your doctor is doing a good job?
A previous study found that cancers are more likely to be missed when the colonoscopy is performed in an office setting, and also more likely to go unnoticed when the procedure is done by an internist or family physician rather than a specialist.
An office procedure, as opposed to one conducted in a hospital setting, actually tripled the risk of missed colorectal cancers in men and doubled the risk in women. Family physicians and internists were 77 percent more likely than gastroenterologists to miss the cancer in men and 85 percent more likely to miss it in women.
With flat lesions being five times as likely as polyps to be cancerous, the competency and plain attention of your physician becomes even more important. You can rest assured that well over 95 percent of physicians are not aware of the finding mentioned in this study and will not be looking for these more dangerous lesions. That number will improve over time, but who knows how long it will take.
This also highlights one more reason -- among a seemingly never-ending number of them -- why you might die from the errors your doctor makes; your physician may be missing signs of colon cancer that are right in front of his or her eyes.
In fact, clever manipulation of the official government death rates conceals the fact that the conventional medical system, not heart disease or cancer, is the leading cause of death in the United States!
The single silver lining – if there is one – is that these findings underscore that you must, without a doubt, take more responsibility for your own health and not rely on the fatally flawed excuse that passes for conventional health care in America.
And, although many physicians expect you to simply lay all your trust in their hands, and may take offence to a request for documentation of competence and success rates, that’s exactly what you should do. After all, it’s your life hanging in the balance, which is far more valuable than his or her ego.
Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer
As with many cancers, you may not experience any symptoms in the early stages of the disease, which is why getting regular colonoscopies is a good idea, especially after the age of 50.
When symptoms finally do appear, they'll likely vary, depending on the tumor’s size and location in your large intestine.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
- A change in your bowel habits for more than a couple of weeks, including diarrhea, constipation (where you have a bowel movement less than three times a week) or thin stools
- Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
- Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- Abdominal pain with a bowel movement
- A sensation that you “still need to go” that can’t be relieved
- Weakness or fatigue (due to iron deficiency anemia)
- Unexplained weight loss
If you have any, or several of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to visit a specialist and get a colonoscopy regardless of your age, to rule out the possibility of cancer.
Blood in your stool may be a sign of cancer, but it can also indicate other, more common conditions. Bright red blood that you may notice on bathroom tissue is more commonly due to hemorrhoids, for example.
How to Prevent Colon Cancer
You can easily avoid colon cancer if you follow the health plan I advocate, just as I believe virtually all cancers can be prevented with simple lifestyle changes.
There are several dietary factors that appear to play a protective role, and one of the most important and simplest ones is to optimize your vitamin D levels. It is an essential nutrient, and the best way to get it is by getting plenty of appropriate sunshine exposure on a regular basis.
For more information on the MANY health benefits of sunshine, please see my new book, Dark Deception, which will reveal why the advice to avoid the sun can literally kill you in more ways than one.
(Many of you know that we test vitamin D blood levels on all patients in my clinic. I highly encourage you to have your doctor do this widely available test. Very few people living in the United States have optimal levels of vitamin D, and they’ve even discovered that you can be deficient even if you live in sub-tropical areas!)
It’s important to know that if you supplement with oral vitamin D, you CAN overdose, so to ensure that you levels are within the optimal range, you should monitor your blood vitamin D levels regularly.
Other proven preventive measures for colon cancer include:
- Eat plenty of fresh raw vegetables, ideally based on your body's unique nutritional type
- Rebalance the ratio of omega-3 fats you consume by taking a high-quality fish oil or krill oil
- Avoid sugar
- Avoid processed meats
- Maintain normal iron levels
- Have your inflammation levels checked by having your C-reactive protein levels tested, and reduce them, if necessary
- Be wary of water soluble fiber as it may actually increase your risk of colon cancer. This was quite surprising to me, who was known as Dr. Fiber in medical school.
- Maintain ideal body weight