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A total of 55,000 Americans die every year from colon cancer. More than 9 out of 10 deaths are preventable, according to doctors.

Dr. Gabriel Friedman, director of colon cancer control at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta, said in the July 1999 issue of "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine that "the sad thing" is colon cancer is "almost totally curable" if caught early. "Yet only 40 percent of colon cancers are caught early."

If caught before the cancer spreads, 92 percent of victims survive 5 or more years. If not caught until after it spreads to the liver, only five percent of affected people survive that long.

The disease is the number two cancer killer and the third most diagnosed type of cancer. Why aren't more cases of colon cancer detected earlier?

"The colon and rectum are considered a dirty part of the body," Dr. Clifford Simmang said in the same issue of "Better Homes and Garden." "It's embarassing for patients, and physicians can be reluctant to put patients through something they don't want done."

Yet survivors can live productive lives. One survivor is baseball All-Star Eric Davis, who played with the Cincinnati Reds in the 1990 World Series and has played with Baltimore and St. Louis.

In 1997, at the age of 35, he had a seering pain in his stomach, which turned out to be colon cancer. On June 13 of that year, doctors removed a fist-sized tumor, and Davis later had chemotherapy. On September 15, 1997, Davis was playing baseball again, and on October 13, only 4 months after his surgery, he hit the game winning home run against the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series.

For the year, Davis hit 28 home runs, had 89 runs-batted-in, and had a batting average of more than .300. At 37, he doesn't require treatments, though there is a slim chance of the cancer returning.

He was named "comeback player" of the year in 1997, and his comeback was labeled the "greatest comeback in sports."

"People saw me as being heroic, but I was no more heroic than with other injuries I had, like the lacerated kidney I had during the 1990 World Series," Davis said in the May 1999 issue of "Ebony Magazine." He explained most people have known someone with cancer and can relate to him for that, but most people haven't known someone with a lacerated kidney.

Who is at risk? Doctors say anybody can get the disease at any age--from 7 to 97. It is far more common after the age of 50, however. Women do get the disease, though it is more common in men. Anyone with a parent, sibling, or child who has had colon cancer has a two to four times greater chance of getting the disease. Anyone who has had a chronic inflammatory disease, such as Crohn's disease, is at a greater risk.

Doctors say people can fight the disease through diet, exercise, and supplements.

According to the American Cancer Society, 75% of colon cancers could be prevented by diet. A diet should have less than 20% fat, 5-8 servings of fruit daily, and 25 grams or more of fiber. Broccoli, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts are especially good in colon cancer prevention. It is also good to reduce the typical daily amount of red meat by one portion a day.

Walking 30 minutes a day is helpful in prevention. In one study, nurses who took baby asprin reduced their risk although doctors say using too much asprin might cause ulcers.

Symptoms for people with late stages of the disease can include rectal bleeding, anemia, abdominal cramps, constipation, and diarrhea.

Even people without symptoms or high-risk factors should be screened after 50.