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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Preventing Colon Cancer: What You Can Do


Exactly how lutein may reduce the risk of colon cancer is not fully understood, says researcher Martha L. Slattery, PhD, MPH, of the University of Utah Medical School in Salt Lake City. She and her colleagues speculate that this occurs because carotenoids are antioxidants, which may destroy the free radicals that are believed to accelerate aging and contribute to the formation of cancers and heart disease.

"Many of these vegetables are also high in folate, another nutrient that may protect from colon cancer, [so] an easy tip is therefore to eat more vegetables, especially dark green vegetables or broccoli," Slattery tells WebMD.

While experts continue to debate the role diet plays in preventing colorectal cancer, researchers are exploring a new field called chemoprevention -- the use of drugs or nutritional supplements to prevent disease, for example, the formation of polyps that can lead to colon cancer.

Aspirin is at the heart of the chemoprevention research for colon cancer, says Raymond N. DuBois, MD, PhD, director of gastroenterology and the Cancer Prevention Program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

"Everybody thinks of it as a simple drug for aches and pains and hasn't considered it as preventive for cancer," DuBois tells WebMD. But, he says, "since 1988, a series of articles -- from 30 to 35, published by number of groups -- has shown that groups of people taking aspirin or ibuprofen, Motrin, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs ... reduce risk of colorectal cancer by 50%."

The concern, DuBois says, is that these drugs, known as NSAIDs, can harm the stomach. That's where another type of drug, called COX-2 inhibitors, comes in. These drugs are more selective and cause no significant damage to the gastrointestinal, or GI, tract.

"Obviously they're new, so we'll have see how the safety profile develops, but so far it's looked like they have a significant reduction in GI toxicity," DuBois says. "As long as they're effective, people can take them for a long time."

COX-2 inhibitors may block the formation of blood vessels in tumors, and that could lead to a treatment option for some people, DuBois says. "That's just come out over the last few weeks and we need to do more work on it," he says. This treatment could also prevent polyps from growing into cancerous tumors.

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