Colon cancer screening guidelines change

October 5, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
One-hundred-fifty-thousand people will be told they have colon cancer this year; 50,000 will die from it. But most of them don't have to. What you don't know about colonoscopies could be deadly.

"Colon cancer is the number-two cancer killer in America of both men and women," said colorectal surgeon Dr. Zuri Murrell, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

That's second only to lung cancer. Dr. Murrell can't understand why people are still dying of it.

"Colonoscopies are done to prevent cancer. And I think that's what makes this disease so treatable and preventable," said Murrell.

Colonoscopy guidelines have been revised: White men and women should get their first colonoscopy at 50 if there's no family history. African-Americans should get their first colonoscopy at age 45.

The preparation has changed too. Traditionally patients would have to drink four liters of an awful-tasting prescribed liquid the day before a colonoscopy. Now there's a new prep: Drink 64 ounces of Gatorade mixed with 230 grams of Miralax and three tablespoons of Milk of Magnesia.

"It tastes better and also it's cheaper and it can be bought over the counter without needing a prescription," said Murrell.

To cut your risk of colon cancer, cut hot dogs out of your diet. The Texas Medical Association says they're full of nitrites and increase the risk of cancer. The American Cancer Society says pork may worsen colon health because it's high in fat and iron. The number one food to avoid? Beef.

"We know that people who don't get it don't eat a lot of red meat," said Murrell.

Soon there may be an at-home screening test to make the entire process even easier and more private. The experimental DNA test can find abnormalities in a person's stool and possibly alert them to any pre-cancerous tumors. In a recent study, the DNA test detected 87 percent of colorectal cancers in curable stages.


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