Prevention of Colon Polyps and Cancer
Since colon polyps can lead to cancer if not detected and removed, it makes sense to learn more about them and what you can do to prevent them. Your colon is located within your large intestine, near your appendix and lower abdomen on the right side. It begins at the end of the small intestine. It extends upwards in a wide loop towards the right side of your abdomen that lies adjacent to your liver. It then continues across your abdomen to the left side and extends downward where it connects with the rectum.
What is a Colon Polyp?
A polyp starts as a small growth of cells on the lining inside of your colon. Initially, a polyp can be as small as a pea or as large as a plum. Colon polyps typically begin as benign tumors, which means they are not yet cancerous. However, certain types of polyps have a greater likelihood of turning into cancer, including adenomatous polyps and serrated polyps. The larger the polyp grows, the higher the chance of it becoming cancerous.
The good news is that doctors can remove these types of tumors while they’re still benign during a procedure called a colonoscopy. They accomplish this by inserting a lighted, thin, and flexible tube into the colon.
Common Causes of Colon Polyps
The exact cause of these growths in the colon remains unknown, but medical researchers feel that genetics and diet play the biggest role in determining who will develop them. People with a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, with colon polyps or cancer should receive regular screenings. The risk is also higher for people whose second-degree relatives, including grandparents, aunts, and uncles, have a history of the disease. A diet high in fat and low in fiber can contribute to the forming of colon polyps as well.
Preventing Colon Polyps with a Healthy Diet
While medical researchers state genetic factors as the biggest influence in the development of colon polyps, you can’t control your DNA. Fortunately, you can control the types and amount of foods you eat. This also plays a big role in the prevention of colon polyps. Below are several types of foods and nutrients that we recommend to keep your colon healthy.
- Calcium: Calcium enables your body to complete many chemical processes and it’s also essential to maintain bone strength. Another one of its important functions is the regulation of cell growth. When you don’t have enough calcium in your body, it can cause the cells in your colon to grow uncontrollably. Although researchers have not yet determined if adequate calcium helps to prevent cancer, adults should aim to consume 1,000 grams per day by drinking milk, eating dairy products such as cheese and yogurt, and eating leafy green vegetables, shellfish, and seafood.
- Fiber: Dieticians typically recommend that adults consume at least 25 milligrams of fiber per day. This can help to improve stool regularity as well as other conditions related to gut health such as diverticulitis. Studies on fiber as a prevention for cancer remain inconclusive, but anything that improves gut health can only be a good thing.
- Fruits and Vegetables: Carrots, oranges, peppers, strawberries, and other fruits and vegetables with a green, orange, red, or yellow color contain powerful antioxidants that can fight chemicals that cause cancer. Cruciferous vegetables, including broccoli, brussel sprouts, and cabbage, also contain properties that can fight against cancer. A diet high in fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed grains can be especially beneficial for gut health and the prevention of colon polyps.
- Folic acid and folate: Folic acid and folate can help to prevent the formation of polyps in people who regularly consume at least 400 micrograms per day. Foods containing high amounts of folic acid include rice, spaghetti, cornmeal, ramen, and flour. You can find large amount of folate, also known as Vitamin B9, in beans, lentils, asparagus, spinach, lettuce, avocado, broccoli, mango, oranges, and wheat bread.
- Meats and saturated fats: Saturated fat contained in meat can be challenging for your body’s bile and digestive juices to process. That means the byproducts of the food can become lodged in your colon and lead to the growth of polyps. Research indicates that a meat-heavy diet can increase the risk of colon cancer as well as breast cancer. You don’t have to give up eating meat, but read nutrition labels carefully to know how much-saturated fat each meal contains.
Lifestyle Choices That Can Lower Your Colon Cancer Risk
An active lifestyle that includes at least 30 minutes of strenuous activity four or more times per week helps to reduce the risk of cancer and other serious illnesses. Quitting smoking or never picking up the habit at all reduces the risk as well. Regular use of aspirin and estrogen replacement for women can lower the likelihood of developing colon polyps, but you should not start using either product regularly before consulting with your doctor at Western Maryland Health System. That is because each has other side effects that can offset the benefit of reduced colon cancer risk.
Screenings options include:
- Fecal Occult Blood Tests (FOBT)
- Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT)
- Cologuard–an at-home, noninvasive screening test
- Colonoscopy–a procedure performed by a gastroenterologist to evaluate the inside of the colon