Have a Colon Conversation: March 17, 2011

Could a baby aspirin a day keep colon cancer away? Researchers are investigating. "It's very tough to say," says Dr. Janette Gaw, a colorectal surgeon on the Lee Memorial Health System medical staff. "There are a lot of studies that have been done. Things to prevent it, but honestly, the only thing that we know that can prevent colon cancer is a colonoscopy."

Dr. Gaw and her colleagues recommend patients talk to their physicians about screenings. "Colonoscopies prevent 90% of cancers because colon cancers, most of them anyway, come from polyps. So if you get a colonscopy, and you find a polyp, you take out the polyp, technically, one should not develop colon cancer."

While some may cringe at the thought of a colonscopy, Dr. Gaw says its not as bad as some may think. "The thing that bothers most people about a colonoscopy is the prep the day before," explains Dr. Gaw. "Here in Fort Myers, most of the people are sedated. They could be telling a joke as they are going to sleep and they'll wake up and finish it and they'll say, 'so are we going to get started?' and we're like, 'you're done!'"

While a high fiber diet and exercise has been linked to colon health, cancer prevention is a different story entirely. "People always come to me and the biggest thing is they are so surprised about is, 'Oh my god how can I have this? I eat healthily, I'm a vegetarian. I do yoga. I eat organic!' But the truth is, people can be born with bad genes."

Those with a family history of colon cancer should talk to their physician about when they should be screened. Current recommendations state that people without a family history should begin screening at age 50.