Get screened. Betsy believes an early colonoscopy saved her life. Begin at age 50 if you have no family history of colon or colon-related cancers and no other risk factors or symptoms. The American College of Gastroenterology now suggests African-Americans get screened at 45 due to a higher incidence and mortality rate.
Diet defensively. “It’s important to have a diet that is high in fiber, high in calcium and low in fat,” says Dr. Edith Mitchell, clinical professor of medical oncology at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
Consider aspirin. “People who take aspirin regularly have a lower incidence of the disease,” Mitchell says. (Talk to your doctor before beginning an aspirin regimen.) Research also suggests a connection between statins and lower risk, but further study is needed.
Know your options. Betsy’s story illustrates that colon cancer doesn’t have to be deadly—or debilitating. When caught early, colon cancer can often be treated with surgery alone. If it has spread, as approximately 20 percent of cases do, chemotherapy is often recommended. “Chemotherapy for colon cancer has changed significantly in the last 25 years with the approval of multiple new drugs,” says Mitchell. “Patients are living much longer with metastatic colon cancer, which is exciting.”
Talk to your doc. Even if you have no risk factors, it’s important to discuss any major abdominal symptoms with your doctor, including blood in the stool, cramping or even notable changes in bowel habits.