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Colorectal Cancer Health Center

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Well-Rounded Prevention May Lower Colon Cancer Risk


During the last 20 years, postmenopausal hormone replacement therapy has been credited for the decline in colon cancer among women. In fact, two studies showed a risk reduction of up to 20%, but the benefit may be greatest in women currently receiving estrogen therapy.

Doctors say aspirin protects against heart disease as well. "To lower the risk of heart attack, cardiologists have been prescribing coated aspirin for years," says Karen Antman, MD, director of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor of medicine at Columbia University in New York City. "And all the better if it reduces the risk of colon cancer."

But early detection is the best way to prevent colon cancer death. A narrow tube, equipped with a camera, allows doctors to see inside the bowel and remove polyps as needed. "Less than a third of adults over age 50 are getting endoscopic exams every five years as recommended," Antman cautions, "and most of them are getting only half of their colon screened."

Sigmoidoscopy only examines the rectum and left side of the large bowel, or colon, whereas colonoscopy examines the entire large bowel. "The distinction is important," Antman tells WebMD, "because benign and cancerous tumors are distributed evenly throughout the colon."

Fortunately, nature also offers protection against colon cancer. "Aspirin and [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs] block the enzyme that activates cancer cells, but there are natural sources that do the same thing," says Mitchell Gaynor, MD, director of medical oncology and integrated medicine at the Strang Cancer Prevention Center in New York City. "The herb rosemary, the spice turmeric, the skin of red grapes, and green tea all have similar effects as the [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug] Celebrex."

Janne was supported with a fellowship grant from the Friends of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

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