BUSTED: Two more colon cancer myths

The government-industrial-medical complex tells you to get a risky colonoscopy as your “go-to” screening procedure for colon cancer. This can be terribly bad advice, especially since you have so many safe and cost-effective alternatives.

They also tell you the single most important risk factor for colon cancer is your family history. And if you have a family history, you need to get colonoscopies even more frequently, and starting at a younger age. But these random proclamations have nothing to do with the science. Especially when you consider the new findings published last month in PLOS medicine.

For this new study, researchers determined the risk of developing advanced neoplasia (three or more non-advanced adenomas, advanced adenoma, or invasive cancer) for men and women with a family history of colon cancer. Then, they compared it to the risk of developing advanced neoplasia in men and women ages 50 to 69 years with no family history or symptoms.

The researchers analyzed data from 8,498 patients who had their first colonoscopy between 2006 and 2012 at six Spanish hospitals. Three thousand fifteen patients had a family history of colon cancer, but no symptoms at the time of screening. And 3,038 patients had no family history, nor symptoms at the time of screening.

The researchers found men and women with two relatives who’d had colon cancer had nearly double the risk of advanced neoplasia (cancer).

But people with only one relative who’d had colon cancer DIDN’T have a significantly higher risk. In fact, they had the same odds (1.0) as those without family history of colon cancer.

Your take-home message?

Family history isn’t the end-all, be-all risk factor

Doctors should be very careful when talking about family history of colon cancer. It’s just not as important as the mainstream would like us to think.

Yes, both men and women showed a significantly greater risk of colon cancer when they had a family history of colon cancer in two relatives. But men or women with just ONE relative who’d had colon cancer didn’t have an increased risk. And it didn’t matter what age their relative was when they got colon cancer.

So, this all-but-missed Spanish study completely busts two more colon cancer myths.

First, people with a family history of one relative with colon cancer do not require more aggressive or frequent screenings than people without any family history.

Second, people with a family history of the disease do not require more aggressive or frequent screenings if their relative got colon cancer at a younger age (under 60 years) versus an older age (over 60 years).

In a general sense, it looks to me that environmental factors — such as diet and exercise– largely determine your risk of getting colon cancer. And the real risk of genetic colon cancer appears to kick in when you have TWO or more relatives with colon cancer in your family history.

The good news here is that most people can control their colon cancer risk simply by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle. Even if your family history includes one relative who had colon cancer. (You should also tell your doctor to treat you like a “normal” person when it comes to ordering up colon cancer screenings.)

For the vast majority of people, these three steps are what it takes to significantly decrease your colon cancer risk:

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
  1. Make sure to get enough vitamins B, C and D. I recommended a daily, high-quality vitamin B complex, 250 mg vitamin C twice per day, and 10,000 IU of liquid vitamin D daily.
  1. You also need to get enough calcium. But only from dietary sources, including dairy, fish and meat. Avoid those risky and ridiculous calcium supplements.

And while I’m on the topic of colon cancer, I’m in the process of launching a new citizen campaign to urge Congress and the FDA to improve oversight, regulation and patient safety for endoscopes — as well as to increase public awareness of the safe, effective alternatives to colonoscopies. I will let you know when it goes “live” — and I hope you will join me in this movement.