Early Detection is the Best Tool Against Colorectal Cancer
Part Two of a Two-Part Series
Hair falling out? Nails cracking? Livia Arevalo, Equality Health Nurse Practitioner, hears all about hair and nail problems when she visits her patients. But it’s like pulling teeth to get them to utter a word about their colon health. Whether you’re a man or a woman, colon health is something you should absolutely pay attention to — and talk about.
“Start talking to your provider about colon health,” Arevalo said. “I see my patients and they say, ‘Oh, my hair’s falling out.’ Everyone’s talking about their hair or nails, right? Make talking about colon health as simple as talking about your hair and nails.”
Providers are used to dealing with colon issues, and they hear about them often. So there’s no need to be embarrassed. Especially since colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and claims more deaths than any other cancer besides lung cancer.
“I’ve learned to ask questions with my patients,” Arevalo said. “I even ask them, ‘What color is your poop?’ I’ll get some shyness, ‘Normal color.’ Okay, so what is a normal color? ‘Normal.’ Neon pink? — I will ask just to lighten up the mood. And they’re like, ‘No.’ Is it brown? Is it hard? Is it soft? Do you have difficulty having a bowel movement? All of those give me lots of clues about what’s going on to create a plan of care specific for that patient.”
The Missing Link
Talking about your colon health rates high on Arevalo’s list of top three habits to acquire to have a healthy colon. The other two are eating a more plant-based diet and avoiding red meat and processed foods, like bacon, hot dogs and corn dogs.
“Red meat does tend to increase the risk of colon cancer,” Arevalo said. “I would choose more chicken and fish. Or beans, they are a good example of a staple that can easily increase fiber. Or eat more vegetables in your diet.”
The reason to eat a more plant-based diet is fiber. Fiber not only helps prevent constipation and keep your colon healthy, but Mayo Clinic states it may improve your overall health because it helps lower cholesterol levels, control blood sugar levels and can even play a part in helping you lose weight. But fiber remains the missing link to good health. According to the Centers for Disease Control, only 10% of U.S. adults get enough.
A Colorful Rainbow
“I think the easiest thing to keep in mind about colon cancer because it’s so related to your diet,” Arevalo said, “is to always make your plate colorful like the rainbow. If you have it colorful, you’ll know you’re getting enough fiber. If you’re having grilled chicken, mashed potatoes and corn, that’s only white and yellow. That’s not the color of the rainbow. But if you add pico de gallo and guacamole, then you have lots of color on your plate.”
If you don’t like changes or don’t think you can eat more fruits and vegetables, Arevalo suggested starting with a goal in mind. The CDC states the minimum should be 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day.
“It doesn’t mean you have to reach it the first day you make a change,” Arevalo said. “Your goal could start with a half-cup of blueberries every morning or a half-cup of steamed broccoli with your lunch or dinner. Start slow. If you fall off the wagon, you can restart the next day.”
And you can still have your carne asada. Arevalo suggested not to eat it every week.
“Or if you eat an 18-ounce steak,” Arevalo added, “reduce it to an eight- or 10-ounce steak and add more vegetables to your plate so your plate looks like a rainbow. If your plate of food looks the same color, you want to add more things.”
The Gold Standard
Part of colon health is not only talking with your provider about it but you need to get screened. The screenings you can do at home (immunochemical fecal occult blood tests called IFOBT and FIT) help your provider get an idea of your colon health, but Arevalo said the gold standard is a colonoscopy. Try not to let the fear that your practitioner might find something get in the way to having this important screening.
“That’s being afraid of the unknown,” Arevalo said. “To tell you the truth, if they do find polyps in your colon, those polyps can be removed. Then you just have to follow up every three to five years with your provider. Plus you have that peace of mind.”
For more facts and insights to help you make the best choices for your colon health, go to Equality Health’s new YouTube channel and watch Cafecito Time con Equality Health’s episode on colon cancer prevention.
Published in Prensa Arizona, 3/24/2022