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Julie Wilkinson, BSN, RN

Colon Cancer Blog


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Do Fad Diets Equal Poor Nutrition?

Tuesday May 20, 2014

Although this is a site that focuses on treatment and life with colon cancer, I receive many emails about diets. At a glance -- because I didn't really take a poll or anything -- the biggest concerns revolve around eating meat and different dieting techniques. I think the good news story is that people do care about ways to reduce colon cancer risk through diet. However, I've also learned that many people don't really know what're good, what're bad, and what're considered acceptable dieting methods.

When speaking of fad diets, I'm referring to the majority of diets that promise rapid weight loss through minimum effort. You know, the kind where you cut a lot of nutrition out of your diet or the kind that comes with a pill or supplement attached. I understand that many people believe in, and have lost weight on, these diets. However, my grandmother held faith in her cabbage soup diet too (if you eat nothing but cabbage soup for a week you'll lose weight). I never did have the heart to tell her that her weight lost was most likely a few pounds of water and muscle, which are not things you want to flush out.

If you are about to embark on a diet that requires you to cut calories to an unhealthy level (without medical supervision), take supplements, or severely restrict any type of nutrition, you might be buying into a fad diet. Although some of these diets do promote short term success, the weight lost sometimes comes right back once you stop the special diet. Worse yet, you might be cutting healthy, nutritious choices out of your daily diet in hopes to lose a few pounds. I'm going to do it the old-fashioned way to fit into my swim suit this summer -- diet in moderation, exercise daily, and expend more energy than I eat.

What Should a Person with Colon Cancer Eat?

Monday April 28, 2014

Upon getting diagnosed with any type of cancer I think it would be handy to buy a set of earmuffs. This way, when Aunt Roberta or cousin Susie want to regale you with what you should and should not be doing, you could pop those earmuffs on and ward off further suggestions. Although the advice is probably given with love, it grates on the nerves when family starts scoffing at your dietary habits because you have cancer.

This collage of articles is for all those people who have had to listen to "you shouldn't eat that," or "my friend with cancer eats this and says it helps". Bottom line -- listen to your doctor's advice. He or she can help you understand your caloric and nutritional needs during treatment way better than well-wishing family.

If you've already fought the colon cancer battle and won, these articles review super foods and ways to decrease recurrence risk through diet:What Can I Eat to Prevent Colon Cancer?, Food for Your Colon, and Super Foods and Not So Super Foods.

The great fiber debate continues: Does fiber decrease your risk of colorectal cancer or doesn't it? Fact remains, it's a healthy part of your diet and fiber has many digestive benefits. These articles might help clarify why: Can Eating a High Fiber Diet Reduce My Risk of Colon Cancer? and Don't Let Low Carb Equal Low Fiber.

During chemotherapy, some side effects of treatment may decrease your excitement about nutrition. These articles were written with that in mind:Everything Tastes Like Metal, What Not to Eat During Chemotherapy, and finally, Can Chemo Make You Gain Weight?.

I've mentioned the great fiber debate, so now it's time to mention its less-loved sister -- which is better, a meat or a plant based diet? Read these articles and perhaps you can be the judge: Vegans and Colon Cancer Risk and Does Meat Really Cause Colon Cancer?.

Even I can get confused reading a nutritional label. Dietary fat hides under several guises. If you want to improve your diet and cut out the "bad fats" check this out: The Many Faces of Fat.

Bowel Irregularity Blues

Wednesday April 23, 2014

Roll of toilet paper.<br />

Image Vincent Giordano/Dreamstime Stock Photos

I have a relative who thinks that his bowels should move daily like clockwork. If he has not had a bowel movement in two days, he'll raid the pharmacy for laxatives, softeners, and anything else to help keep his bowels "on track" and avoid constipation. Fact is, most of us are probably not that regular (or obsessive).

The term "regular" -- at least when it comes to your bowel habits -- is very subjective. I imagine if you lined up five people each would have his or her own definition of what having regular bowel movements means. Likewise, when your doctor asks about your bowel health, he or she is assuming that you know what your regular bowel movement frequency is and can tell when your body has deviated from it's norm.

The following articles are all bowel-related and may help to answer some of those more embarrassing questions that people do not like to ask their doctor:

If you have any symptoms, including chronic irregularity, it's definitely worth a trip to your family doctor. If nothing else, he or she can help ease your mind.

Just Diagnosed and Dealing with It

Sunday March 30, 2014

Doctor writing on a chart.

Image Nonmim/Dreamstime Stock Photos

Getting diagnosed with any kind of cancer can elicit strong reactions in the most meek of us. You might think of what you would say during that moment, but the fact is, none of us know how we will react until it becomes necessary.

In light of the end of Colon Cancer Awareness month, I want to reiterate one point: I know I frequently discuss the importance of screening and colon cancer prevention. This is not meant to take away from the many survivors out there who were doing absolutely everything right and still were diagnosed with colon cancer. There is no blame to you, I am just doing my best to encourage people who are frightened or unaware of screening tests to empower themselves.

Moving from the "newly diagnosed" group to the "I'm a survivor" group is rife with frustration, challenges, and even self doubt. I've highlighted some articles below to help you make that transition if you are newly diagnosed with colon cancer.

  • Newly Diagnosed and Dealing with It. This article encapsulates all of the firsts you face during your new journey with colon cancer.
  • Top Five Things Not to Do After a Cancer Diagnosis. I know -- it's self-explanatory. However, these are the most common mistakes we make.
  • Telling Your Family. For someone who's never faced a cancer diagnosis, this is not easy. Looking your loved ones in the eye and telling them you are prepared to fight a potentially life threatening disease is not for the weak of will.
  • Should I Choose a Cancer Treatment Center? Choosing the what, when, how, and where of your colon cancer treatment is a highly personal choice. Let this article inform you about the benefits of treatment centers and see if this choice is right for you.

Every one of you has their own story to tell. Getting diagnosed and dealing with colon cancer irrevocably changes your life. I've witnessed patients, such as my grandfather, take the diagnosis in stride and even take pleasure in showing off their new "thing-a-ma-jiggy" (the colostomy). On the other hand, I've seen patients newly diagnosed giving up before the treatments even started. Take this moment to pat yourself on the back. If you are here and you are reading this, then you're already taking steps towards being a survivor.

Drop Your Risk of Colon Cancer

Sunday March 30, 2014

Picture of doctors in a hallway.

Image Nyul13505016/Dreamstime Stock Photos

As the National Colon Cancer Awareness month comes to an end, our conscientiousness about the topic does not need to waver. As the second leading type of cancer, the goal should continue to focus on decreasing people's risk of developing this disease and increasing awareness of the same. If that statement sounds extraordinarily simple it's because it is simple -- although you will not get a guarantee to be cancer-free, you will decrease your risk.

Following your doctor's advice regarding your first and ongoing screening exams to detect colorectal cancer is the foremost way to decrease your risk. The concept is simple: skip your screening exams and your risk increases. Adults without a family history or personal risk factors may start their screening exams around 50 years (45 years if you are African American), but if you have a history or risk factors you will need to get screened sooner.

Hopefully, the majority of Mr. Winter is behind us here in the Northern Hemisphere, which means we will soon be enjoying our outdoor foods and grills in pleasant weather. I'm not saying you need to stop grilling your meats, but you could research the correlation between colon cancer and charbroiled foods. When you cook meats at very high temperatures (such as over the open flame of your grill) chemical compounds are released. Heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are carcinogens (things known to cause cancer) that get in your body by eating chargrilled meats.

While you're considering getting outside, think about the benefits of exercise for your colon. In fact, the less you move and the more you eat, your weight will increase, which boosts your risk for several different types of cancer! If you haven't exercised in a while or have a medical history, talk to your doctor about starting an exercise program before you get started.

There is one thing that can help you lose unhealthy weight and benefit your colon at the same time: A well balanced diet. Increasing the amount of healthful nutrients on your plate at each meal. You don't need to become vegan to really drop your risk, just bump up your consumption of fiber and plant foods and skip the processed ones.

I won't belabor you on the rest of the myriad unhealthy habits (smoking, drinking) that also increase the risk of colon cancer. Talk to your doctor if you're having trouble stopping an unhealthy habit. There are so many wonderful resources available.

Free Colorectal Cancer Resources

Tuesday March 25, 2014

Holding hands.

Image Dmitriy Shironosov/Dreamstime Stock Images

That's right, I said free as in no charge, gratis, on the house, and complimentary colorectal cancer resources. There are so many mediums for colorectal cancer advocacy, support and education that it would be a shame to not highlight some of them for you.

Whether you are fighting colon cancer or just want to help support the fight, these resources can get you get started. This is not an exhaustive list. Please feel free to email me if I have missed any of your favorite resources - we can continue to build upon this together.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) has been supporting the fight against cancer since 1913. Here you will find local support, education, trials and can learn more about colon cancer and treatment options. You can reach their toll-free 24-hour hotline at 1-800-227-2345.

The Colorectal Cancer Coalition campaign, Fight Colorectal Cancer, is a colorectal cancer advocacy organization operating out of Washington, D.C. They offer a free "Newly Diagnosed" kit, a quarterly newsletter, patient webinars, and patient advocacy and education through their website. You can reach their toll-free Answer Line at 1-877-427-2111.

The Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA) is a colon cancer advocacy organization that provides tele-chats, webinars and the buddy program to help fight colon cancer and raise awareness. The CCA uses original fundraisers, such as the Undy 5000, to raise money used to support screening for colon cancer and fund further advocacy. You can reach their toll-free helpline at 1-877-422-2030.

The National Cancer Institute is a government organization that provides education and answers about colon cancer to include current clinical trials and research, prevention and screening facts. You can browse their website to learn more, chat online through their LiveHelp Online Chat option, or call them at 1-800-4-CANCER.

If you are computer savvy and would like to get connected with other people facing similar health challenges, you can sign up free at Caring Bridge, a non-profit organization that provides free websites for connecting with friends and family.

The Association of Cancer Online Resources (ACOR) provides a comprehensive list of online communities fighting cancer together. You can access their free mailing lists with a couple clicks.

Last but not least, you are very welcome to find the resources and support you deserve here. My 365 day a year focus is on helping to promote awareness about colon cancer -- not only during the month of March. I can be found in person on Twitter, Facebook and the Colon Cancer forum here at About.com.

African Americans Need Earlier Colon Cancer Screening

Thursday March 20, 2014

Close image of a hand

Image Dennis Owusu-ansah/Dreamstime Stock Photos

It's largely advertised that the typical age to begin colon cancer screening is on your fiftieth birthday. Although it may not be as fun a milestone as turning 16 and driving or turning 21 and drinking, it is an important year. However, if you are an African American you are encouraged to start screening tests by your forty-fifth year.

According to the American Cancer Society, African Americans have both the highest mortality rate (death due to colon cancer) and rate of being diagnosed with colon cancer. Although research has not determined the rationale behind this fact, the statistics don't lie.

Your ethnicity is one of those risk factors that you cannot change. Other static risk factors for colon cancer include:

  • Age
  • Gender (men have an increased risk over women)
  • Underlying health conditions (such as diabetes)
  • Family history and genetic disorders

So what can be done? First, lets start spreading awareness that African Americans need screening exams, such as the colonoscopy, to begin on their forty-fifth birthday. If colon cancer is found and stopped in its early stages, perhaps we can decrease these horrid statistics. Next, consider taking an active part in decreasing your risk for colon cancer, especially if you have any of the static risk factors previously mentioned. Although you cannot change your skin color and more than your age, you can change your:

  • Diet to include more fruits and vegetables
  • Exercise regiment
  • Unhealthy habits (smoking, drinking to excess)

If you have identified any risks in yourself (or have a family history of cancer) talk to your doctor and learn when you should start screening exams.

March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month

Friday February 28, 2014

Doctor holding a megaphone.<br />

Image Christy Thompson/Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Alright all you survivors, family members, loved ones and care providers -- tomorrow kicks off National Colon Cancer Awareness month. Dig into that closet and find your blue! The dark blue ribbon of awareness serves as a reminder to all that we are working together to stop colon cancer. I'm not a scientist and I don't have the license or skill to perform colonoscopies. My part in this war on cancer is simple: I educate, advocate, and inform. The more people I reach, the more people learn that awareness and screening are the frontline tools against colorectal cancer.

Two years ago I signed a petition, which I posted here on About.com, to paint the White House blue for March. Although enough signatures were not obtained to actually put the idea into effect, it was still fun. Last year I painted my legs blue. I'm not sure what I'll do this year, but I'm open to options if any readers have suggestions (preferably of the non-permanent kind as I did have a friend suggest dying my hair blue).

Since tomorrow is March 1st, I'd like to kick off the month by providing you with some of my favorite go-to websites. With the wealth of information available at your fingertips on the World Wide Web, it's always a good idea to weed out the sites that mostly offer opinion or are trying to sell you something and get straight to the sites that provide fact.

The American Cancer Society is always an excellent starting point for information. When I want to research information on clinical trials or the newest colorectal cancer findings, I usually hop onto the National Cancer Institute website. If I'm looking for statistics, I'll start with the National Cancer Institute but have also found the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention site helpful. If I write a specific article on surgery or treatments, the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons has a plethora of information to share.

Vaccines to Treat Cancer?

Friday February 28, 2014


Image Sasho Alusevski/Dreamstime Stock Photos.

Wouldn't it be amazing if we had a vaccine to help treat colon cancer? Actually, the National Cancer Institute has a trial in phase one that is studying just that concept. The vaccine in this study is not intended to prevent you from getting cancer or a recurrence, rather it helps your body fight the cancer using the amazing powers of your own immune system. Although the trial is still in very early phases, it's exciting research. The proposed name of this vaccine is AdHER2/Neu dendritic cell vaccine. Neu or dendritic cells are immune system cells -- the vaccine would be personally tailored to each person's immune system, not a mass produced shot.

This type of cancer treatment falls under the category of immunotherapy. The therapies function by using a part of your own immune system to help your body better fight the cancer on its own. We are already using different forms of immunotherapy to treat cancer, but the science is still fairly new and there is a lot to explore.

And that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are many studies in progress not only at the National Cancer Institute but in large hospitals worldwide. The researchers are trying to find new and better ways to treat colon cancer through use of different chemotherapy drug combinations, combining therapies (chemotherapy and radiation therapy together, for instance), and even working to develop new targeted therapies to kill cancer cells.

Yoga for Your Colon

Thursday February 27, 2014

Woman in yoga pose

Image Pavalache Stelian/Dreamstime Stock Photos

Yes, there is a specific yoga pose designated to help your colon. Many of the core twisting, compression asanas claim this, but there is a specific pose designated specifically for the large intestine. If you practice Bikram yoga you may be familiar with the wind removing pose, or Pavanmaktasana. This asana is used to release tension in your ascending, transverse, and descending colon.

If you've ever spent time in a yoga class -- especially for beginners -- this position holds true to its name. The compression on the abdominal organs tends to force any retained gas outward (hence the name, wind removing). It is a polite way of saying "this asana is going to make you fart".

If you are familiar with yoga poses at all, the wind removing pose is basically the positional opposite of the child's pose. Both poses start on the floor, in the position of many clearing yoga poses. However, in the wind removing pose, you are lying supine. Let me clarify one point -- I am not a yoga practitioner. I have practiced the wind removing pose and it was true to its name. That's all I will say about that.

In my non-yoga master terminology, basically you raise one knee towards your chest and hold. Raise the alternate knee towards your chest and hold. Then raise both knees and hold. Many yoga beginners mistake this pose for a hip or gluteal stretch -- it is not. It is an abdominal compression meant to clear the "wind" from your abdominal organs. Hence, you should have excellent gas relief with this pose.

On a side note, when my oldest son was a baby he had horrendous colic. As most parents know, colic is a byproduct of excess gas and upset in the digestive system. My pediatricians advice was to take my sons tiny legs and "bicycle them" towards his chest slowly -- basically I was doing the wind removing pose to my son without yoga knowledge at the time. The result? A sound night sleep for mom, dad and baby.

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