VA Maryland Health Care System Offers Tips for Colon Cancer Prevention

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Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. and one of the most preventable cancers. Most colorectal cancers begin as a growth in the bowel called a polyp.

There are multiple options for colorectal cancer screening, and the best one is the one that gets done,” says Dr. Erik von Rosenvinge, chief of Gastroenterology at the VA Maryland Health Care System.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the U.S. and one of the most preventable cancers. Most colorectal cancers begin as a growth in the bowel called a polyp. If polyps are found and removed before they become cancerous, then colorectal cancer can be prevented. Additionally, if colorectal cancer is caught early by screening―before symptoms develop―then it can most often be cured. About one in 20 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime and many patients who die from it could have been saved by early screening. One in three Americans of screening age (50-75 years) are not getting the recommended screenings.

“There are multiple options for colorectal cancer screening, and the best one is the one that gets done,” says Dr. Erik von Rosenvinge, chief of Gastroenterology at the VA Maryland Health Care System, where about 40 Veterans per year are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. “Although a family history of colorectal cancer as well as other things like smoking, a diet high in red meat and low in fruits and vegetables, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, physical inactivity and excessive drinking increase the risk for colorectal cancer, most people who are diagnosed with it do not have these risk factors,” he says.

If identified by a screening test, before symptoms develop, then colorectal cancer can be cured about 90 percent of the time. Yet, more Americans will die in 2015 from colon cancer than did in the entire Vietnam War.

Here are some tips that can help prevent colorectal cancer:

  • For average risk individuals between the ages of 50-75 years old, schedule a routine screening.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat wisely. Limit the amount of red meat and processed meats (such as bacon, sausage, and hot dogs) that you eat. Diets high in fat can increase your risk of colorectal cancer. To lower your risk, eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Quit smoking. Quitting smoking is probably the single best thing you can do for your body. It is commonly known that smoking is linked to lung cancer and heart disease, but smokers are 18 percent more likely than nonsmokers to develop colorectal cancer, and 25 percent more likely to die from the disease, according to a 2008 study.
  • Get physically active: Any amount of physical activity is better than none. Aim for 10 or more minutes daily of moderate activity and do fun things you enjoy, like dancing, swimming, riding bicycles, skiing, walking, etc.

Editor’s note: Colon cancer survivor Veteran Nathan Chapman, an avid athlete and a vegetarian, was shocked to discover that he had stage 3 colon cancer. He was cleared as cancer free at the end of 2014. “I was a vegetarian, an athlete who ran marathons and who worked out. If I was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer, anyone can get it,” he says. Mr. Chapman is willing to discuss his experience with chemo and surviving colon cancer because he was asymptomatic and simply had a routine screening. To arrange an interview with Nathan Chapman and Dr. Erik von Rosenvinge about colon cancer prevention, please contact Rosalia Scalia at rosalia.scalia(at)va(dot)gov or by phone at 410.605.7464.

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Rosalia Scalia
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