Preventing Colon Cancer
August 6, 2004 2:18 AM   Subscribe

My dad died of colon cancer at a rather young age. I have always been nervous about it myself, and i am 20.

I have never had blood in my feces, or anything unusual to that effect. What steps should I take right now to check for anything unusual?
posted by Keyser Soze to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Eat a diet low in fat and high in fiber. When you get a little older, say 40's, have your colon inspected. Hopefully, by then the inspection process will be a little less intrusive than it is today. Caught early colon cancer should almost never be fatal, at least that is what a very close doctor friend tells me.
posted by caddis at 4:59 AM on August 6, 2004

You should start having colonoscopies yearly, starting now. Really.
posted by notsnot at 5:00 AM on August 6, 2004

Make sure that your doctor knows about your family's medical histories, and get regular checkups. A competent doctor will ask for that sort of information anyway, and use it to guide the sort of tests and exams that an annual physical should include.
posted by Zonker at 5:09 AM on August 6, 2004

colonoscopies are fun - seriously. the drugs they give you ROCK (demerol and something else). the thing that really sucks about them is the "cleansing" you have to do beforehand - you drink this terribly nasty oil-based stuff then sit on the toilet all day. but, really, the drugs during the procedure are very fun. makes it worthwhile, IMO.
posted by tristeza at 9:21 AM on August 6, 2004

I've always heard that you should begin yearly colonoscopies 10 years before the age that your parent had the cancer.
posted by archimago at 9:34 AM on August 6, 2004

The first thing I would do is find a good family doctor who you're comfortable with and is helpful in addressing your concerns. Caddis is right. If you look after your health and have appropriate screening tests, you don't need to worry too much.
How young was your father when he was diagnosed? Under 50? Under 40?
If yes, you *might* be at increased risk.
Do you know of others in your family who had colon or related cancers, including rectal, stomach, kidney, ovarian, uterine, endometrial, pancreas, liver, ureter, brain, or lymphoma? If yes, and your doctor should be able to help you figure out if you are at increased risk, then you might want to look into genetic testing through a genetic counselor.
Unless you find a reason to think your risk is higher than average, you are much too young to be worrying about colon cancer.
posted by Zetetics at 9:43 AM on August 6, 2004

Keyser, my sympathies toward your father's passing. Here is what I can offer: The last time I went to my physician was in 1999 to prepare for a trip abroad. I rarely go, as I am young and have no ailments. However, when I went in 1999, he gave me a home kit to test for colon cancer. I regrettably didn't take it (it wasn't mandatory), but I inspected it, and here's what I vaguely remember:

It was a non-intrusive kit you take home, take a sample, and send into a lab. It was intended to check for blood in your poop. It came in a 5x7 envelope with instructions. It came with a sterile gauze pad that you were supposed to like wipe around the inside of your toilet or something after you took a dump? And maybe also to wipe your butt? Like I said, I vaguely remember the instructions because I didn’t take the test.

So I'm certain there are take-home, non-invasive kits that can test for blood in your poop. Ask your doctor, and he can surely send you one. Colonosopy is probably not necessary until you are older. Btw: I was 23 at the time he gave it to me, so I think you are in the age-range to begin testing.
posted by naxosaxur at 9:46 AM on August 6, 2004

btw, the symptoms of colon cancer include:
a change in bowel habits
diarrhea, constipation, vomiting
narrower than normal stools
unexplained weight loss
constant tiredness
blood in the stool
feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
abdominal discomfort - gas, bloating, fullness, cramps
unexplained anaemia

Anyone with cause for concern should get checked out. In 95% or more of cases, colorectal cancer can be prevented or successfully treated if caught early.

naxosaxur, you're probably referring to a fecal occult blood test. Its a good, cheap, general screening tool but I would suggest that anyone with real cause for concern should get a more thorough screening.
posted by Zetetics at 9:57 AM on August 6, 2004

It can also be symptomless (as in case of my dad). It was too late for him but we were told that it would have been treatable had he seen a doctor years earlier. I think you'll be ok in that you're concerned and just make sure you have regular check-ups.
posted by terrortubby at 10:11 AM on August 6, 2004

colonoscopies are fun

To each their own. I think it's about the most awful thing you can have done to you. Unfortunately, as someone who deals with Ulcerative Colitis (which carries almost all the symptoms that Zetetics described above) I have to go in every couple of years to get "scoped". I've been symptom free and perfectly normal for some time now, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.

No matter how unpleasant it is.
posted by aladfar at 10:12 AM on August 6, 2004

Do not rely upon the take at home test. By the time blood shows up in your stool it may be too late.
posted by caddis at 10:18 AM on August 6, 2004

Response by poster: Well he died at 50, so I think I have an increased chance of cancer. My grandfather on my mothers side has had skin cancer and heart disease, and my dads side has good hearts but high cancer rates.
posted by Keyser Soze at 12:20 PM on August 6, 2004

Try coupling monitoring with a proactive approach :

"Eat a diet low in fat and high in fiber." - yes, and watch - especially - animal fats. Also, no hydrogenated fats/oils.

Try to eat less - little more than, or just exactly what you need to mantain your body weight.

Another thought - I can't back this up with research, but I think an occasional 1-3 day fast would also probably cut your risk.


Avoid processed foods.

Eat lots of greens.
posted by troutfishing at 1:12 PM on August 6, 2004

Oh, also - base your diet on a combination of whole grains and legumes (for complimentary amino acids for higher usuable protein) to which you can add various other stuff - vegetables, small amounts of high quality oils and small amounts of meat/fish/cheese/soy/nuts .
posted by troutfishing at 1:15 PM on August 6, 2004

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