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What is good for your heart is good for your colon

SANDRA JORDAN | 4/21/2014, 10:10 a.m.
Did you know that lifestyle changes that are recommended for your heart are the same ones recommended for good colon ...
Xray image of male patient with colon cancer. Fotolia/AP

St. Louis American

Did you know that lifestyle changes that are recommended for your heart are the same ones recommended for good colon health? Eating plenty of healthy vegetables and fruit, reducing high fatty foods and exercising regularly covers a multitude of preventable illnesses.

Colon cancer is the third leading cause of death in men and women in the U.S. – and in developed nations.

In 2010, the American College of Gastroenterologists recommended that African Americans begin colon cancer screening at age 45, with other groups starting at age 50. For persons ineligible or unwilling to undergo colonoscopy screening, the college recommends a flexible sigmoidoscopy every five to 10 years, or a computed tomography colonography every five years or a fecal immunochemical test for blood.

“African Americans really should be screened by age 45, because, unfortunately, polyps occur at a younger age,” said Saint Louis University gastroenterologist Mary Burton, M.D.

Burton is an assistant professor of Internal Medicine in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at SLU.

Colon polyps are growths on the surface of the colon, which is the large intestine. Benign polyps over time can become cancerous. Early screening, and the detection and removal of polyps reduce the person’s risk of colon cancer.

It’s important to know your risk for colon cancer, and what you can do to lower it. Factors include age, your medical history and heredity.

“Anyone who has had a polyp or cancer is at risk for another one,” Burton explained. “And their parents, siblings and children are all at increased risk.”

The National Institutes of Health says eating fatty foods, smoking, drinking alcohol, obesity and inactivity all contribute to polyps, which contribute to colon cancer.

“They are finding out that a risk factor for colon cancer is diabetes,” Burton added. “So people with diabetes have to be very sure to get screened.”

Obesity is another risk factor, she said.

Colon cancer is considered a preventable disease.

“What we think decreases the risk … we tell people the exact same thing that heart doctors tell people: diets higher in fiber, lower in fat, especially saturated fat and red meat … and exercise,” Burton said. “If you are being good to your heart, you are being good to your colon, as far as colon polyps and colon cancer.”

And, she concedes, it’s really hard to get people to make those changes.

But it is a necessary one.