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Powerful Choices Podcast: Prevent Colon Cancer

March 2009 

Colleen: Hello and welcome to the American Cancer Society’s Powerful Choices Podcast series. I’m Colleen Doyle, the American Cancer Society’s director of nutrition and physical activity. Thanks so much for joining us today. 

You know, you have the power to improve your health and reduce your cancer risk through the lifestyle choices you make every day. And we want to help. In these Powerful Choices podcasts,  we'll give you the information you need  to make the choices that can  help you be well and stay well.

Today I'm here with Dr. Otis Brawley, the Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society, to talk about something that, let's face it, lots of people don't like to think about: screening for colorectal cancer. Otis, why is this such an important topic?

Otis: Thank you, Colleen. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. It's also the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. But what many people don't know is that colon cancer can actually be prevented through screening. This cancer starts out as a little growth called a polyp. Screening can find these polyps so doctors can remove them before they turn into cancer. Even if cancer is already present, screening can help find it at an earlier state so that it's easier to treat and survival is more likely.

Colleen: That's really good news.  So tell me, who needs to get screened for colon cancer, and are there a variety of different screening options for people?

Otis: The American Cancer Society recommends that all men and women start getting screened for colon cancer when they turn 50. Some people, though, may need to start earlier if they have a family history of colon cancer, or other conditions. So it's actually important that you talk with your doctor about when to start.

There are several options that ACS and other groups recommend. Some are tests more likely to find cancers than polyps. Others can find both polyps and cancer and those are the tests that are preferred, if you're willing to get them and they're available to you.

Tests that can find both polyps and cancers include: colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy, double contrast barium enema, and CT colonography, which is also called virtual colonoscopy.

The tests that are more likely to find cancers than polyps are stool tests. There are a couple of these. There are also newer tests that look for cancer DNA in the stool. Talk to your doctor about what test is right for you.

Colleen: Thanks, Otis. That's information was really helpful, and hopefully will encourage a lot of people to go have that conversation with their doctor and go get screened for colon cancer.

So screening is certainly one way to protect yourself from colorectal cancer, but there are everyday choices you can make that also can help reduce your risk. Watch your weight, and being physically active can help reduce your risk, and what you eat is important too. There is a strong link between diet and colon cancer. Eating a lot of red or processed meat is linked to a higher risk of colon cancer, while eating lots of fruits and vegetables is linked to a lower risk.

Eating healthier starts at the grocery store. Here are some tips you can use the next time you go shopping.

Colleen (on video): One thing to think about when you're buying fresh produce: focus on those fruits and vegetables that have the most color. In general, these have the most cancer-fighting antioxidents and phytochemicals. 

Another thing you might have a question about is frozen and canned fruits and vegetables – are they just as good? Are they healthy? Sure! But a couple of things to watch out for: with frozen fruits, you definitely want to be sure you're getting products that don't have a lot of added sugar. And frozen vegetables, watch out for cheese sauces, extra butter, other cream sauces that can add a lot of fat and calories. Canned fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious. Watch out for added sodium in the vegetables, and added sugar in your fruits.

Another really important thing to think about is the number of saturated fats that you eat in your diet. Meat, in particular, red meats - beef, pork, and lamb, contribute a lot of saturated fat to our diets, but there's lots of ways to make some easy and healthy choices. One is to look at the name. If you see "round" or "loin" in the name, you know that's a leaner cut of meat and a better choice for you. Another good alternative to eating red meat is certainly chicken and turkey. The one thing you want to be careful about is chicken skin and turkey skin has a whole lot of fat and calories in it. Go ahead and cook those meats with the skin on to help maintain some of that moisture, but be sure you pull it off before you eat it, and save yourself a lot of calories.

A lot of us also like to use ground chicken and ground turkey in place of ground beef. A great alternative, however, look for ground chicken breast or ground turkey breast on the label. If you don't see that specific word, you can be guaranteed that the skin from the chicken and turkey is ground up with the meat, making that a high fat, high calorie product. So ground chicken breast, ground turkey breast is the way to go.

Colleen: We hope the information we’ve shared today will help you make powerful choices that can help reduce your cancer risk. You can find more resources at cancer.org or by calling our call center at 1-800.227.2345, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. From all of us here at the American Cancer Society, thanks for joining us!