Tips for Keeping Your Colon Healthy
The colon plays an important role in how we use the food we eat to fuel our bodies. Also known as the large bowel or large intestine, its main function is to process the liquid waste it receives each day into a manageable amount of solid stool, ready for elimination.
A healthy colon will rid your body of the leftovers it no longer needs, although there’s a lot of variation in the amount of stool a healthy person passes. Your stool is filled with bacteria, so it is important to pass this out of your body. If your colon isn’t working the way it should, you could experience bloating, gas, and pain.
There are a number of conditions that can cause the colon to work improperly, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, diverticular disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and colorectal cancer. Treatment for these conditions might include diet and lifestyle changes, medications, or surgery.
Colorectal cancer is one of the more serious colon diseases. Behind lung cancer for men and breast cancer for women, cancer of the colon and rectum (colorectal) is the second most common cancer diagnosis, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. It’s estimated that 1 in 29 men, and 1 in 34 women, will die from colorectal cancer in their lifetime.
HOW DO I REDUCE MY RISK OF COLON PROBLEMS?
There are a number of ways to help keep your colon working properly. You could start by examining your diet and following the recommendations below:
- Increase your fibre intake. Canadian women need 25 grams of fibre per day and men need 38 grams. Fibre helps the colon by keeping you regular and preventing constipation. Fibre-rich foods include fruits and vegetables such as raspberries, pears, apples, bananas, oranges, cooked artichoke, peas, broccoli, and corn, plus whole grains and legumes.
- Limit red meat consumption and steer clear of processed meats. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, eating a diet high in red meat (beef, pork, lamb and goat) and processed meats increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer. The risk increases with the amount eaten.
There are also a number of lifestyle changes you can make that help with colon health:
- Limit alcohol intake. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, having about three drinks of alcohol per day can increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 1.5 times compared with non-drinkers. The risk is increased for both men and women, but men appear to be affected more strongly.
- Don’t smoke. Smoking tobacco also increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer, and the risk increases with both the length of time you smoke and the amount smoked.
- Increase physical activity and exercise regularly. Exercise increases muscle control and stimulates the urge to go to the bathroom, as well as helping to maintain a healthy body weight.
- Get screened. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, there is strong evidence that colorectal cancer screening is effective in detecting cancers earlier and decreasing mortality. The majority of colorectal cancers begin as benign growths, called adenomatous polyps, which over time can grow in size and number thereby increasing the risk that they become cancerous. Identification and removal of polyps can help prevent the development of colorectal cancer.
In addition to diet and lifestyle factors, it’s important to be aware of any genetic factors that can increase your risk. For example, the risk of colorectal cancer increases with age and men are also more likely than women to develop it. A family history of certain conditions can also increase your risk.
Please note, that a risk factor is something that increases the risk of developing cancer, but most cancers are the result of many risk factors. Cancer can also develop in people without risk factors.
HOW DO YOU SCREEN FOR COLORECTAL CANCER?
In Alberta, colorectal cancer screening guidelines recommend the following types of screening:
- Fecal Immunochemical Test (FIT): This stool-based test is recommended every one to two years for people aged 50 to 74 years of age who have average risk of colorectal cancer – no signs or symptoms and the absence of family or personal history, or other high-risk conditions.
- Flexible Sigmoidoscopy: Used to evaluate the lower part of the large intestine, it involves a thin, flexible tube inserted into the rectum. A tiny video camera at the tip of the tube allows the doctor to view the inside of the rectum and most of the sigmoid colon.
- Colonoscopy: This procedure looks at the lining of the entire rectum and colon using an endoscope with a camera on the end; the colon is inflated with air to stretch out the lining so the doctor can inspect the entire surface.
- CT Virtual Colonscopy: This exam is a minimally invasive computed tomography (CT) scan that uses low-dose X-rays to produce two- and three-dimensional images of the large intestine (colon), rectum, and small intestine. If differs from a colonoscopy in that an endoscope is not used and your rectum is inflated with CO2, which is more comfortable and more readily absorbed by the body than room air.
HOW DO I GET COLORECTAL SCREENING?
To determine what type, or if, screening is appropriate for you, you will need to discuss with your doctor your medical and family history, risk factors, and if there are symptoms, how long symptoms have been present and how they affect daily activities. Your doctor would then provide you with a requisition for a specific procedure, if recommended.
Mayfair Diagnostics offers community-based private CT services as a complement to the public health care system, but whether public or private these exams must be requested by a health care practitioner. If a private CT virtual colonoscopy is indicated as a best next course of action, a requisition will be provided and the appointment can be booked.
Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 50 radiologists who are sub-specialty trained, which guarantees an expert opinion of your imaging. We provide the most number of CT exams in Calgary.
The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons (2020) “The Colon: What it is, What it Does and Why it is Important.” www.fascrs.org. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Canadian Cancer Society (2019) “Canadian Cancer Statistics: A 2018 special report on cancer incidence by stage.” www.cancer.ca. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Cleveland Clinic (2019) “Digestive Tract: Rectal and Colon Diseases and Conditions.” www.my.clevelandclinic.org. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Harvard Medical School (2013) “Rethinking fiber and hydration can lead to better colon health.” Harvard Health Publishing. www.health.harvard.edu. Accessed August 11, 2020.
Toward Optimized Practice Working Group for Colorectal Cancer Screening. (2013) “Colorectal cancer screening: clinical practice guideline.” Toward Optimized Practice, www.topalbertadoctors.org. Accessed August 11, 2020.