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Five ways to avoid colon cancer and heart disease

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HOUSTON (FOX 26) -

Colon cancer is one of the most prevalent types of cancer. It's the second deadliest disease, but it's entirely preventable! A local man has been fighting it for years. Jim Sentner, along with U.T.'s MD Anderson Cancer Center, want us to share with you simple tips that could save your life and protect you from multiple diseases.

73 year old Jim has suffered from the effects of colon cancer over, and over, and over again since he was diagnosed with it, along with prostate cancer more than a decade ago.

"I was originally diagnosed with prostate and colon cancer at the same time, and underwent an operation for that. Then it moved on to my liver, had an operation to remove 1/3 of it (which regenerates quickly), cancer moved to my lung, had 1/3 of lung removed, cancer came back to my liver again, underwent another operation, came back to my lung yet again, had another lung operation, that was four years ago. It's now back in my liver, where they can't operate, so now we are just controlling it, but we've been controlling it for three years," explains Sentner.

He has a very positive attitude about it all. Though he was hoping to enjoy a quiet retirement after leaving his law firm, he's now spending many days undergoing chemotherapy at MD Anderson. He says he's thrilled with his medical care there and the positive place and medical workers help him "keep his chin up". The feeling is mutual. His doctor is most impressed with him.

"I think he's extremely special and a symbol to other colo-rectal patients and survivors and he's really an example that you can live with this disease, fight this disease, undergo chemotherapy, and lead a very full life. It's really his positive attitude that has made a large difference," says Dr. Cathy Eng, who is an Associate Professor and Associate Medical Director of the Colo-Rectal Center at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

Sentner hopes you'll learn from his biggest mistake in life.

"I am probably the typical male. I don't ask directions and I ignore symptoms. Although my mother and father died of colon cancer, I just didn't do it, and I did have some symptoms, I attributed to all of the bike riding I do," explains Sentner. That bike riding has kept him going though. He recently completed another MS-150, a 150 mile bike ride from Houston to Austin. He also runs in many foot races.

Jim urges everyone to get a colonoscopy, when age appropriate. During that procedure, doctors can easily remove polyps, that will eventually turn into cancer.

"I think if I'd gotten screened, I wouldn't be here talking to you today. I'd be off on my merry way, or whatever the Good Lord had planned for me! The only word I can use is I was STUPID, and that's a consequence and I've been fighting this thing for 11 years," says Sentner.

He wants you to know you can prevent colon cancer. Plus, these same prevention steps also help protect your heart and can help reduce other potentially deadly diseases, like diabetes!

1. Lifestyle: don't smoke, limit alcohol to two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women (preferably red wine), and eat healthy. "I would say just a well-balanced diet of fruits and vegetables, normal amount of protein, and small amount of carbs, are a good idea," says Dr. Eng. Some researchers believe that red meat and processed and smoked meats like bacon, lunch meat, and hot dogs put you at a higher risk of colon cancer.

2. Exercise. The American Cancer Society recommends at least thirty minutes, five days a week. "A lot of individuals in Texas are overweight, and we need to encourage them to get physical activity. Studies show patients, who are diagnosed with cancer, also reduce their risk of recurrence in the future, when they get regular physical activity," says Dr. Eng.

3. Get screened! A colonoscopy is the gold standard at age 50, but much earlier, if you have a family history of colon disease. Dr. Eng suggests you get a colonoscopy ten years before the age your family member suffered from colon cancer. "I think people need to realize there are different types of screening. I would recommend any kind of screening, as long as you're screened. There's a simple technique that your primary care physician can do, to test for blood in the stool. They'll send you home with a kit and you can do it in the comforts of home. Also, a flexible sigmoidoscopy is a tool that only looks at the rectum and sigmoid colon. The gold standard is full colonoscopy. Yes, the prep is a bit uncomfortable that first day, but during the procedure, you're sedated, you're not awake. The newest option is a virtual colonoscopy. It's better for modality, using a combination of CT scan and a 3D image. However, if they find a polyp, you still have to get a colonoscopy to get it removed, so I would choose a full screen colonoscopy to begin with," explains Dr. Eng.

4. Talk to your doctor first, but studies show a baby aspirin a day can reduce your risks of colon cancer.

5. Seek help immediately, if you have any symptoms.

"That would be a change in bowel habits, going regularly having a daily bowel movement, then constipation or increased gas and diarrhea and the frequency and consistency of stool. Also, if the appearance of stool changes. The later symptoms we're concerned about are weight loss, significant bleeding in the stool, urgency of their bowels, night sweats, and anorexia," says Dr. Eng.

Jim has one last word of advice. "If you don't have it, you will get it - that's my mantra to people I know," says Sentner. Again, he urges you to get screened.

For more information, visit http://www.mdanderson.org/patient-and-cancer-information/cancer-information/cancer-types/colon-cancer/index.html and http://www.cancer.org/cancer/colonandrectumcancer/

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