Music Can Save Lives
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Cancer and Health

Colon Cancer

Music Can Save Lives

By Dr. W. Gifford Jones

July 27, 2002

Do you listen to western music, jazz or Mozart? It doesn't matter which type because any can save lives. So why isn't music a part of all medical procedures?

Every year thousands of people die from colon cancer. The majority could have been saved by regular examination of the large bowel. Yet many people refuse this procedure because of its indignity and discomfort.

But researchers report to The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons that music therapy during colonoscopy reduces psychological and physical stress.

In a study conducted at Bethesda, Maryland, 50 patients scheduled for colonoscopy were divided into two groups by the flip of a coin. One group received music therapy and listened to their favourite music through headphones during the procedure.

Classical music was the most popular, chosen by over 50 percent of patients. Gospel, jazz, western and country music were also offered.

The result? Those who listened to music showed decreased anxiety and there was no increase in blood pressure or heart rate.

The positive effect of music should not come as a surprise. We know that music has always inspired the soul. Consider soldiers who have gone into battle emboldened by music. And it's been used in labour rooms for years to ease the pain of childbirth.

But how does music decrease pain? It appears that sound stimuli can increase blood levels of endorphins, morphine-like substances.

During my long medical career I've seen many people die needlessly from cancer of the colon. But well patients often say about colonoscopy, "I'll never let a doctor do that to me." Even when experiencing rectal bleeding some have sought out quacks rather than face the proven, lifesaving, medical procedure, colonoscopy.

What a tragic error! In 15 minutes of mild discomfort, eased by sedation, colon polyps can be detected and removed in a doctor's office and lives saved. In effect, you do not develop cancer of the large bowel unless you first grow a polyp.

These fleshy growths arise on the inside lining of the bowel. It's estimated that about one person in three over the age of 50 has one or more colon polyps.

A report from The Mayo Clinic shows that after five years 2.5 percent of polyps become malignant. Ten years later the figure jumps to 10 percent and after 20 years 24 percent.

How can you decrease the risk of this common cancer? Some authorities believe that eating less fat may help to avoid this malignancy.

We know that colon cancer is rare in Uganda. These people consume huge amounts of fiber which make stools soft and prevent constipation. Some scientists believe that an unidentified toxin in feces produces malignancy if it remains in prolonged contact with the intestinal wall.

Some studies also indicate that ample amounts of calcium may decrease the risk of colon cancer. And milk is still the best way to obtain adequate amounts of calcium. Unfortunately, there's an anti-milk crowd that for irrational reasons damns the advantages of milk. Don't believe them. Ignoring the multiple health benefits of milk is dangerous for both children and adults.

Aspirin, which for good reason has been labeled the wonder drug of the century, fights colon cancer. Today many people associate the daily use of Aspirin with lowering the risk of heart attack. But a large-scale study by the American Cancer Society shows that Aspirin decreased the death rate from colon cancer by an astonishing 40 percent.

My advice is for everybody to ask their doctor whether it's prudent to take a daily Aspirin. Particularly, if they have a higher risk of developing colon cancer.

For instance, if one of their parents, siblings or children has had bowel cancer. Or if they've had a colon polyp or inflammatory bowel disease.

Obviously the best way to prevent this malignancy is to have colon polyps removed. Unfortunately there are not enough colonoscopists to carry out this test on every Canadian or American. So if you live in an area where it's available consider yourself lucky. Pick out your favourite tunes and take them to your favourite colonoscopist.

And remember, never, never neglect rectal bleeding. Graveyards are full of people who thought such bleeding was due to hemorrhoids. And let your doctor know of any change in bowel habits such as increasing constipation, diarrhea or a change in the size of bowel movements.

This note is just for editors — I wonder how many of you have had a colonoscopy. I f you haven't I hope this column convinces you to pick out your favourite music.

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