Expert interview on the prevention and diagnosis of colon cancer

Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers in both women and men. Prof. Dr. M. Fried, professor at the University Hospital in Zurich, shares his knowledge about this tumour disease.
Prof. Dr. M. Fried is a leading expert in the field of gastroenterology. He is not only the head of the gastroenterology department of Zurich‘s University Hospital but also one of the partners of Double Check Medical Check-up Centre. In this interview, he shares his expertise on the prevention and early diagnosis of colon cancer.

Prof. Fried, you have been in the “business” of gastroenterology (stomach and bowel diseases) for quite some time making you a very experienced and respected doctor in this field. In the past few years, we heard more and more about colon cancer and its prevention. Why has the perception of colon cancer and the risk have become more promiment? Are there nowadays more cases or what has changed?

Colon cancer belongs to the three most prevalent cancers in humans. The early detection of a cancer is very important as early stages of cancers can be healed, while the more advanced stages of a cancer have a much lower probability of being cured.

Furthermore, the precursor forms of the cancers, the polyps in the colon, which are benign small tumours, may develop into a colon cancer. Our aim is to find these polyps as early as possible and remove them. By doing that with colonoscopy we can markedly lower colon cancer rates in humans.

Colonoscopy is nowadays a harmless and pain-free procedure with minimal risks; the removal of polyps during colonoscopy is also a very rapid and painless procedure.

Are there any early symptoms that should be looked out for?

Unfortunately, there are no early symptoms of colon cancer.

By the time colon cancer causes symptoms, it will already have progressed into a large tumor with metastasis in other organs, by which time the prognosis is mostly poor.

Therefore, we have to actively search for early precursors of colonic cancer by perfoming  a colonoscopy at regular intervals. We may than find early cancers or even better, colonic polyps, and remove them, in order to prevent them developing into tumours with a less favorable prognosis.

Every person should have a colonoscopy beginning at the age of 50 years and then every 5-10 years.  We routinely perform these so-called screening coloscopies in our endocopy unit which is directed by Professor Peter Bauerfeind.

Are there different types of colon cancer?

Most cancers develop in people who don‘t have a family history of colonic cancer. If first degree relatives of a patient have a history of colonic cancers in particular at a young age, then it is even more important to examine this patient by colonoscopy. In this case, an examination at a younger age than 50 years might be necessary.
Every person should have a coloscopy beginning at the age of 50 years and then every 5-10 years.

Prof. Fried

Do you have any advice on preventive steps we could take in in our daily life to prevent colon cancer from developing?

Unfortunately, no lifestyle changes can significantly diminish the occurrence of colonic cancer. Nevertheless, it is known that a diet low in animal fats with a moderate alcohol intake and a sufficient amount of fruit can contribute to a slightly lower probability of developing colonic cancer. However, the effect of diet and life stylre is relatively minor, genetic factors are much more important.
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