I am a colorectal cancer doctor. Here are 5 things I would never do.

By | March 4, 2024

A gastrointestinal cancer oncologist told HuffPost what behaviors can lead to colon cancer risk, and what signs to look for. SDI Productions via Getty Images

Colon cancer yes the third-most common form of cancer in the world. In the early stages it can be difficult to catch. The symptoms, such as diarrhea, abdominal pain and anemia, can easily be overlooked or mistaken for another, more benign problem.

There is also a spike in colorectal cancer diagnoses among younger people. The reason for this, while unclear, is likely multifactorial, with genes, environmental exposure and lifestyle all contributing. What we do know is when colon cancer If caught early, it can be treated effectively.

Fortunately, there is a lot you can do to keep your gut health in check. We asked Dr. Ursina Teitelbauma medical oncologist and section chief for gastrointestinal cancers at Penn Medicine Abramson Cancer Centerabout the the most common mistakes worth avoiding for the sake of your intestines. Here’s what Teitelbaum said she personally avoids, and what you should do too:

1. I would never ignore my family history.

Family history is one of the strongest risk factors for colorectal cancer. Up to 1 in 3 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer have family members who have also had the disease. There are a few reasons why cancer runs in families: genetics, shared environmental factorsand a combination of both, according to the American Cancer Society.

Because the health of your family members directly affects your individual risk of colon cancer, knowing your family history is critical. Teitelbaum recommended asking your parents, siblings or other relatives if any relatives, including grandparents, cousins ​​or uncles and aunts, have ever been diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

For example, if you discover that a first-degree relative has colon cancer, you will be advised to start screening earlier. “The health of your colon depends on your genes,” Teitelbaum said.

2. I would never miss or postpone colonoscopies and screening tests.

There have been cases of colorectal cancer is increasing rapidly among young adults. Although the disease, which affects less than 1% of adults, is still rare, the spike in incidence has made early screening and diagnosis all the more important.

Because of this alarming trend, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has released new information Guidance on screening for colon cancer in 2021 to try to catch more cases. All adults are now advised to start screening from the age of 45 via a colonoscopy or stool test.

Regular colonoscopies are especially important for people with inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, because these conditions can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. But even otherwise healthy people with no family history can develop colorectal cancer.

“No matter how healthy your lifestyle is, when you reach a certain age, you need to get screened,” Teitelbaum said. Getting screened is the best way to detect and treat colon cancer early.

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3. I would not ignore any strange or abnormal symptoms.

Doctors across the country have noticed that many younger adults don’t think their abnormal symptoms could be cancer, Teitelbaum said. And because they are so young, caregivers may not immediately suspect problems. This can lead to delayed diagnoses and worse outcomes. research shows. The takeaway? you to have to pay attention to your body, Teitelbaum emphasized.

Note any changes in bowel movements. If you’ve always pooped on schedule but are now often constipated, or you notice blood in your stool and abdominal pain, it’s worth talking to a doctor. Diarrhea, fatigue or unexplained anemia also require medical examination.

It is important to stand up for yourself. If you feel like your doctor isn’t taking your symptoms seriously, get a second opinion. “If you’re really concerned, hang in there,” Teitelbaum said.

4. I wouldn’t underestimate the power of a healthy lifestyle.

Although the causes of colon cancer are poorly understood, more than half of colorectal cancers are linked to it modifiable lifestyle factors. According to the researchers, smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol and having a sedentary lifestyle go hand in hand with an increased risk of colon cancer. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Your diet also plays a major role. Red meat and overly processed foodssuch as soda, candy and cookies, have been linked to a higher risk of colon cancer, while vegetables, fruits and whole grains have been linked to a lower risk.

“There is no perfect predictor for colon cancer, but globally, a healthy lifestyle can help” prevent it, Teitelbaum said.

5. I never avoid talking about poop.

Finally, Teitelbaum recommended getting comfortable talking about poop. The more open we are about the subject, the better we can do breaking the stigma around to talk about it.

Sometimes irregular bowel movements, such as loose or bloody stools, are the only indication that something is wrong. It can be difficult to know if your experience is abnormal without telling others what you are going through.

It can be embarrassing to talk about poop, but Teitelbaum says we should do it. “Poop is such a health status, and talking about it can save your life,” she said.