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Prevention of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is the second most common malignancy in developed countries, after lung cancer in men and breast cancer in women. When both sexes are considered together, it is the most prevalent.

In Spain, each week over 500 new patients are diagnosed with this illness, with over 31,000 new patients each year, during which 14,000 patients die.

Symptoms which may be experienced are abdominal pain, a change to the usual frequency of going to the bathroom, seeing blood in stools, feeling a mass in the abdomen, having a distended abdomen, an intestinal obstruction, anaemia and weight loss. However, when these symptoms are present, in the majority of cases the cancer has spread and the cure rate is only 10%. This is why detection tests are important. These are carried out as part of the process for determining the presence of cancer or precancer (adenomatous polyps) in people who do not have any symptoms of the illness.

Colorectal cancer detection tests that are regularly carried out are one of the most powerful weapons for prevention. If detected early, it can be cured in over 90% of patients.

It is recommended for detection tests to begin at 50 years old for people who do not have an increased risk of colorectal cancer – the majority of the population, as 80% arises in people who have no family history of the illness. Individuals with increased risk, and those with a significant family history of the illness (only in a fifth of cases), may benefit from beginning detection tests at a younger age. In these cases in which there is a significant family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, it is necessary to consult a specialist on the potential risk.

There are different options for detection tests. Of all of these, one of the most recommended for its effectiveness is the colonoscopy, as it does not only detect precancer injuries, adenomatous polyps, which grow slowly and are easily identifiable, during the same examination they may be removed through polypectomy before they become a cancer.

The period between the first appearance of a polyp and the development of cancer varies between 5 and 15 years. The colonoscopy also allows colorectal cancer to be found in its initial stages, when it is highly curable.

The colonoscopy being carried out with anaesthesia makes the procedure comfortable and completely painless. The average time for the process is 15 to 20 minutes. The frequency with which it must be repeated depends on the number, size and histological analysis of the polyps found. When no polyps are found the periods are extended and, depending on the cleanliness of the colon or the family history, it is not necessary to repeat it for at least 5 years.

For these reasons, all people over 50 years of age should have a colonoscopy. It is the easiest form of prevention.

To reduce the risk of having colorectal cancer, the current recommendations on lifestyles consist of:

  • Avoiding obesity and diets high in fat
  • Increasing physical activity
  • Limiting consumption of red meat and processed meat (cold meats, sausages)
  • Eating more fruit and vegetables
  • Maintaining good levels of vitamins C, E and D
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption

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