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Bottom Line: Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancers are the second leading cause of death -- behind lung cancer -- among American men and women, but they are also among the most preventable.

According to the American Cancer Society , more than one million Americans survive colorectal cancers (also known as colon or rectum cancer) each year due to prevention, early detection and treatment. Stamford resident Richard Sheinbaum, M.D ., a gastroenterologist at Stamford Hospital, treats patients with these cancers, which, he says, are slightly more prevalent among men than women. But there is good news, too. "Colon cancers are usually derived from polyps," says Dr. Sheinbaum. A polyp is a growth of tissue that starts in the lining and grows into the center of the colon or rectum. "Routine screenings [colonoscopies] will identify approximately one quarter of the men and one fifth of women with these 'precancerous' growths," he says.

Colorectal cancers develop slowly over years. Most cancers start as a polyp. And removing one early, says Dr. Sheinbaum, might keep it from becoming cancer. The ACS suggests that if everyone age 50 and older has regular screening tests, at least 60 percent of deaths from colorectal cancers could be avoided.

Dr. Sheinbaum concurs. "Polyps commonly arise in the sixth decade of life -- earlier for those with immediate family history (parents or siblings) and African Americans. This is the reason we impress upon the public to have colonoscopies performed, as we can remove precancerous polyps before they become cancers."

Colorectal cancers are not as aggressive and insidious as some other forms of the disease. They are, however, stealthy and dangerous cancers whose symptoms -- rectal bleeding, change in bowel habits, weight loss or abdominal pain -- are not always manifest until they are signs of a more developed polyp or cancer.

And while nothing trumps regular screenings as far as colorectal cancer prevention is concerned, Dr. Sheinbaum says that following a "high fiber diet, low red meat diet," as well as taking aspirin and vitamin D regularly, are also recommended for prevention. Dr. Sheinbaum adds, "But because this is a genetically initiated cancer, nothing replaces regular colonoscopies." And there is no time like the present to tend to your bottom line.

Dr. Shenibaum's office is located in the Tully Center, an adjunct campus of Stamford Hospital. He can be reached at (203) 348-5355.

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