Colorectal Cancer-45 is the new 50!

September 30, 2018

Forty-five is the new fifty. That’s right, but before you get too excited, I’m not talking about a new model of sports car, I’m talking about colon cancer and the recent recommendation by the American Cancer Society to reduce the screening age for the disease to 45, down from the previous 50. You may ask why change a guideline that has been in place for decades? Simply put, people today are getting sick at an earlier age. In response to this, the American Cancer Society has lowered the recommended age for the first colorectal cancer screening in the hope of catching the disease early and curbing the spread of any cancer.

We all know the subject matter is not an easy one to discuss. Colon cancer is usually not a topic brought up around the kitchen table. Yet, we do talk about our friends/co-workers who have recently been diagnosed with the disease or, worse, have passed away. The sad part is, the disease has a high rate of curability if caught early. Obviously, it’s time to put aside the feeling of embarrassment and start talking. Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer and the second leading cause of death in the US. Rates of the disease have increased 51 percent in people under 50 since 1994, yet studies have shown that the rate of the disease has slowed down after age 55 due to people having their screening at the previously recommended age of 50. For that fact alone, doesn’t it make sense to lower the screening age?

According to Dr Stephen Sentovich of City of Hope Hospital, “The most important way to reduce your chance of colon cancer is to make sure that you undergo screening at age 45 or earlier if there is a family history.” He goes on to say, “Treatment of colon and rectal cancer is successful in most cases. Minimally invasive surgery and targeted chemotherapy are very effective, speed recovery, and minimize side effects.”

These recommended standards are for the general population; now add in the fact that on a daily basis, firefighters respond to house fires, car fires, and a variety of industrial accidents. In addition to the fire itself, another threat putting firefighters’ lives and health at risk is the toxic chemicals found in smoke. Exposure to certain substances have been found to cause DNA mutations and increase the odds of developing cancer.

“Undergo screening at age 45 or earlier if there is a family history” Dr. Stephen Sentovich, City of Hope

Consider another factor that can increase the odds of colorectal cancer for firefighters – our diet. Organized mess is great for camaraderie but can be somewhat harmful for our dietary health. With our schedule and an ever-revolving cadre of cooks, chances are better than not that a firefighter could be eating a number of different varieties of red meats a week, a well-known suspect of the disease. Add in the fact that most of that meat is barbecued, another suspect cause of cancer, and you have real concerns.

The next time you are up to cook, think about more healthier alternatives, and make a conscience effort to introduce a more balanced diet. Fruits and vegetables should be a station staple. Dark green leafy veggies, mangos, berries, and melons, are healthy choices and can be a great snack. Remember to limit caffeine and, when off duty, your alcohol. This can also help to improve energy; it’s important to also keep in mind that medications do not mix well with normal amounts of caffeine and alcohol. Curtail ice cream and other sweets intake as well. Not only will it help in losing a little weight, it will also help reduce your chance of cancer. Try mixing in minimally processed dairy foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D, such as plain Greek yogurt. The probiotics in these foods can be helpful for digestion. Studies have also shown that eating small but more frequent meals can increase your metabolism and aid in the digestion and absorption of much needed nutrition.

Colorectal screening at age 45 is only a recommendation, and not all professionals are in full agreement; however, being proactive in your health should be a priority. If you are 45 or older, it’s important to not put it off any longer and schedule an appointment with your doctor today. Testing doesn’t always mean a colonoscopy to start. Other, less evasive tests are available and should be discussed with your health professional, especially if you have a family history or are exhibiting any signs or symptoms such as bleeding, frequent irregular bowel movements, or pain. As of this printing, your Relief Association benefits allow for general screenings to begin at age 50 but individual cases may vary coverage depending on symptoms and family history, so discuss your risk with your doctor today. We encourage you to take full advantage of your benefits and assure yourself a better chance of enjoying life after 50—oh, I mean 45!

By John Hicks

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