Every day, 410 people in the U.S. receive the bad news… they have colorectal cancer.
And these cancer patients are getting younger all the time. Colon cancer rates rose more than two percent per year for the past several years for those under 50.1
True to form, the American Cancer Society’s #1 tip for preventing colorectal cancer is to get screened.
On the surface this recommendation makes sense, but what does the science show?
It takes ten to 15 years for abnormal cells to grow into polyps in the colon, which can then become cancerous. What’s more, few symptoms of colon cancer become apparent until the later stages of the disease.
So, it’s no surprise that colorectal cancer is the #2 leading cause of cancer-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Screening allows doctors to find and remove polyps before they turn cancerous. Still, as we often say here, detection is not the same as prevention.
Plus, screenings come with risks. Yet most doctors brush over the risks, if they address them at all.
Here’s what you need to know before you follow doctor’s orders…
Three types of colon cancer screenings
Doctors say everyone over 50 should get screened for colorectal cancer, regardless of individual risk factors.
There are three “acceptable” screening methods:
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) to check for blood in your stool, once per year
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy, every five years
- Colonoscopy, every ten years
Most doctors default to colonoscopy. However, that “gold standard” choice is now being called into question.
Experts dispute status quo
Newer practice guidelines published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) urge doctors to assess a patient’s 15-year risk for colorectal cancer using the QCancer colorectal screening tool before recommending colonoscopy or any other invasive colon cancer- screening test.
In other words, how likely are you to get colorectal cancer during the next 15 years based on family history and current health?
If your risk is below three percent the BMJ recommends no screening at all.
The QCancer colorectal tool is intended for doctors to use, but you can complete your own assessment at https://qcancer.org/15yr/colorectal/index
For a risk above three percent, the BMJ first recommends a fecal immunochemical test (FIC) once every year or two. Sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy were seen as less acceptable screening tools.
For one thing, colonoscopies are supposed to discover tumors early on, but one study reported a miss rate of 17 percent.2
In addition, according to the BMJ, the risks of these invasive screening tools outweigh the benefits far too often.
Colonoscopies are FAR from risk-free
The risks of colonoscopies include:
- Perforation of the colon. This is a serious complication with a high mortality rate.3 Risk increases with patient age and number of other health conditions. Perforation is so dangerous that it can result in death within 14 days.4
- Dysbiosis due to the harsh laxatives. Laxative use decreases the diversity of gut flora and triggers an unhealthy immune response that results in inflammation and digestive distress – even two weeks later.5,6
- Complications from anesthesia, especially for those with sleep apnea, high blood pressure, diabetes, or obesity.7 Anesthesia correlates to a 13 percent greater risk of complications within the first 30 days following the procedure. These complications include perforations, stroke, and pneumonia.8 In the U.S., 34.4 percent of colonoscopies use anesthesia.9
Warning: This is the biggest risk of all…
Colonoscopy exposes you to the very real risk of infection or infectious disease. Chalk it up to the flexible scope.
These scopes are not disposable, so sterilization is mandatory between each use.
Sounds simple, right?
Turns out it’s a huge problem most patients are oblivious to.
One PhD called flexible scopes the “device from hell”, referring to the tedious process of cleaning and disinfecting them.
A single scope is often used 300 to 1,200 times per year.
Most of the time (80 percent), sterilization means immersion in a two percent glutaraldehyde solution (Cidex). The scopes sit in the solution for ten to 15 minutes.
But Cidex can’t clean the tiny channels contaminated with blood, tissue, and feces. So, in reality, doctors are reusing scopes that are impossible to clean.
Ask these questions… It could save your life!
If you decide to get a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, it’s critical that you ask this life-or-death question before booking your appointment.
A university study looked at various methods of cleaning the tiny channels of endoscopes and then tested cleaning practices to see what could clean the crud from the inner channels.
As already noted, glutaraldehyde didn’t work. Not in 15 minutes. Not in two hours. Not ever.
Worse yet, glutaraldehyde works like formaldehyde. It preserves and embalms collected tissue so it lasts and builds up over time.
Only about 20 percent of hospitals clean their flexible endoscopes with peracetic acid instead, yet it is the preferred choice, a more sanitary practice. Peracetic acid is used to dissolve proteins in organic chemistry labs. It’s FAR superior to glutaraldehyde – and it could save your life.
How do you find out how a hospital cleans its scopes before it’s too late? You ask!
This little bit of “homework” could save your life. So ask them three important questions:
- How do you clean your endoscopes between patients? What specific cleaning agent do you use?
- Is this cleaning agent used 100 percent of the time?
- How many of your colonoscopy patients have contracted infections?
If the first answer is glutaraldehyde (Cidex), cancel your appointment and find another place. As for the third question, the right answer here is zero.
Both scopes come with the same infection risk
A sigmoidoscopy uses a shorter and smaller scope, so it doesn’t see as far into your colon and comes with fewer complications.
But it’s still a scope, so it’s still critical that you ask about the cleaning process.
A colonoscopy can become an intervention tool as well as a diagnostic one. If they find polyps, they’ll photograph, clip, and seize them, then send them off to biopsy.
So it theoretically could save your life, as long as the scope isn’t contaminated with some dire pathogen.
The best solution? Prevention…
The Harvard School of Public Health estimates that most cancer deaths are preventable, around 75 percent of them. Other research shows that only five percent to ten percent of cancer cases are genetic.
That gives you a lot of power!
Start making these seven healthy changes today to lower your risk of colon cancer…
1. Eat more vegetables, fruit and fiber. Vegetables are a top source of both dietary fiber and anti-cancer nutrients.
2. Optimize your vitamin D levels. Insufficient D is a risk factor for colorectal cancer.
3. Avoid tobacco, including secondhand smoke. Limit alcohol to one drink per day.
4. Avoid processed meats like bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, pepperoni, hot dogs and so forth. Their nitrates convert to cancer-causing nitrosamines.
5. Stay active. It can slash your colon cancer risk by 30 percent to 40 percent.10 Exercise also boosts immune cell circulation, even in the absence of weight loss.
6. Stay lean. Studies link obesity (especially belly fat) to many cancers, including colon cancer.
7. Remove sugar from your diet. It’s linked to many cancers and obesity.
Best of all, these seven cancer-fighting tips don’t just apply to preventing colon cancer. They’ll also reduce your chances of suffering from a number of other cancers as well.
- American Cancer Society. Colorectal cancer facts & figures 2020-2021. 2021.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4290010/ Accessed 06/08/21.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2811793/ Accessed 06/08/21.
- https://academic.oup.com/jnci/article/95/3/230/2520585 Accessed on 06/08/21.
- https://www.cell.com/cell/fulltext/S0092-8674(18)30585-3 Accessed on 06/08/21.
- https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-05480-8 Accessed on 06/08/21.
- https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/265592 Accessed on 06/08/21.
- https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1666432 Accessed on 06/08/21.
- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4887133/ Accessed on 06/08/21.
msse/Fulltext/2003/11000/Physical_Activity_and_Cancer_Prevention_Data_from.7.aspx Accessed on 06/08/21.