The colon is an organ that people would rather not talk about. It is associated with waste and dirt, thus a subject matter that is almost taboo. Yet, cancer of the colon is a real problem that people should think, if not talk about.
Problems with the colon actually occur very often throughout a person’s life. However, these problems can add up with time, so that the incidence of colon cancer can be quiet high among the elderly. That is why current guidelines recommend for regular colon cancer screening starting at age 50. But how does it all start?
According to researchers at the University of Michigan
Regular wear and tear on the colon can cause little out-pockets called diverticula in one in three adults over the age of 65. They are sometimes more common when there is persistent constipation, which causes people to strain to pass stool that is too hard. The high pressure from straining causes the weak spots in the colon to bulge out and become diverticula.
Diverticuli are normally harmless. They usually form in areas where the blood vessels go through the intestinal muscle walls, making these areas weak. Diverticuli can get plugged up with waste and become infected by bacteria, resulting in a condition called diverticulitis. The older people get, the more diverticuli are formed in the colon, and the chances of plugging up, inflammation and infection go up.
It is said that 30% of adults aged at least 65 years old have diverticuli in their colon. By age 85, the incidence increases to 65%. Complications of diverticulitis can lead to colon cancer.
Colon cancer, however, is highly preventable. According to Dr. Kim Turgeon, a gastroenterologist in Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan Health System, it is important to keep the colon healthy and this can be done by
- Keeping the bowels moving with a high fiber diet
- Exercising regularly
- Drinking lots of fluids throughout the day
Previous recommendations about not eating nuts and seeds to avoid little particles plugging diverticuli are no longer valid, as recent research studies have shown. These food can in fact be beneficial as they are rich in fiber.
It is also important that adults above the age of 50 should be routine screened, for example, through colonoscopy. Even if you are healthy, and had no history of colon or bowel problems, screening is still recommended.
It can be embarrassing to talk about your colon to friends. So why not talk to your doctor about it?