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3 ways you can prevent colon cancer [video]

March 02, 2017 | Heather Shannon
man speaking with female doctor about colon cancer symptoms
The first step in colon cancer prevention is speaking frankly with your doctor about any issues you're having.

It's Colon Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know that among non-smokers, colon cancer is the No. 1 killer? It doesn't have to be. It's not only treatable and curable, but preventable.

What can you do to avoid this disease?

1. Be honest with your doctor

Dr. William E. Karnes, a gastroenterologist at the UC Irvine Health Chao Digestive Disease Center, says that many people are reluctant to get a colonoscopy or talk to their doctor because they're embarrassed.

"Don't be embarrassed to death," cautions Karnes.

Having a frank conversation with your doctor will go a long way in diagnosing the cancer early, when it's most treatable.

2. Schedule a colonoscopy

Why? It's the gold standard of colon cancer detection. What's more, colonoscopies — from prep to procedure — are becoming easier to endure.

Patients typically are placed on a clear-liquids only diet the day before the procedure to clear the colon, which makes it easier for your doctor to thoroughly examine the digestive tract. However, UC Irvine Health gastroenterologist Dr. Jason Samarasena led a study confirming that a low-residue diet works just as well.

Low-fiber foods such as eggs, bread and butter, chicken nuggets and pasta are easy to digest and don't contain as much fiber that ends up undigested in the stool.

Curious what happens during a colonoscopy? Watch our live colonoscopy performed by gastroenterologist Dr. Kenneth Chang on gastroenterologist Dr. Gregory Albers, who underwent the procedure without anesthesia. Don't worry — you won't have to.

3. Know your family history

Every one of us has a 1 in 20 chance of getting colon cancer. Some, however, have a greater risk and should consider genetic counseling if:

  • Multiple people on one side of your family have had colon cancer
  • A family member developed colon cancer before age 50
  • A family member had colon cancer more than once
Some genes increase your risk of getting colon cancer, and a genetic counselor is trained to identify them. If you are genetically at risk, your doctor may recommend earlier and more frequent screenings to aid in early detection.

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