Over the last ten years, the incidence of colorectal (colon) cancer decreased by 30 percent. Although there’s been great success in decreasing the incidence of this form of cancer, it’s still estimated that roughly 26,000 men and 24,000 women will die of this disease within the next year. To build on the momentum of the past decade and increase efforts to prevent and screen for colon cancer, March is designated National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.


“The first line of prevention, as with almost any form of cancer or disease, is early detection and lifestyle modification,” said Dr. Lenley Jackson, emergency care physician and founder of Harvesting Wellness, a local company which specializes in holistic wellness through products, tips and workshops. “Lifestyle modifications include abstaining from smoking, limiting alcohol intake, increasing the amount of fiber in the diet, eating more fruits and vegetables, exercising and maintaining ideal body weight.”


Early detection is the best line of defense against any disease. The large drop in colon cancers is thought to be due in large part to a greater number of Americans following through on colonoscopy screenings. In fact, over the past decade, colonoscopy use tripled from 19 to 55 percent. Though this is a remarkable statistic, the sobering fact is that many Americans are still not getting colonoscopy screenings because they are either afraid of the procedure or don’t feel that they need it.


Forty percent of colon cancers can be prevented through regular colonoscopy screening. For those not wanting a traditional colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy represents another option. This procedure uses a CT scan to reproduce a 3D image of the colon. Like a traditional colonoscopy, it can detect precancerous polyps. The main difference is that with a traditional colonoscopy, the endoscopist can detect and remove precancerous polyps simultaneously. If precancerous polyps are detected on a virtual colonoscopy, the patient has to subsequently undergo a traditional technique to have them removed.


Along with screenings, lifestyle modifications can be key in preventing colon cancer. According to the American Association of Cancer Research (AACR), studies have reported a 20 to 60 percent increased risk of colon cancer for smokers. Just convincing youth not to start smoking and persuading adults to quit smoking would prevent a significant number of deaths from this disease.


A healthy diet is also very important in helping to prevent colon cancer and other maladies. Supplementing a healthy diet can help protect against colon cancer, with good evidence indicating daily intake of between 1,000 to 1,200 mg of calcium and 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin D can decrease risk of the disease. Additionally, taking a multivitamin will provide folate, which can boost the immune system and ward off colon cancer.


“It’s important to help raise awareness about colon cancer and help to diminish some of the fear people have with regards to getting screenings,” Dr. Jackson said. “Preventative measures can save lives.”