Listen To Your Mother

Kelly Wallace is a CBS News Correspondent based in New York.
Remember what your mother told you? Drink your milk, eat your vegetables and get off the couch. Well, as hard as it might be for you to accept this – Mom was right, especially when it comes to preventing colon cancer. (We're focusing on that for tonight's story on Conquering Colon Cancer on the CBS Evening News.)

Some studies have shown that exercise – walking, jogging, whatever you like to do – can reduce your chances of getting colon cancer by as much as 50 percent.

Consider the case of 59-year-old John Knudson of Seattle who learned his colon was a "regular polyp farm" after his first colonoscopy.

Since his mother and sister also had polyps, he decided to put on his jogging shoes and take part in a study examining the impact of exercise on colon cancer risk. He jogged for about an hour six times a week for a year and has been running about four times a week ever since.

The result? "I've been back for a couple follow up colonoscopies and since then, I think the first one I had maybe one polyp and the last one I didn't have any polyps," John said in an interview. "So it's been much better."

Okay, so perhaps our story has you thinking you should make exercise a regular part of your life. That's good. Now think about eating your broccoli.

Some studies have shown that vegetables such as broccoli, broccoli sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower trigger a chemical process within our bodies that ultimately turns on an important gene which suppresses tumors.

"The food changes the mechanism, the mechanism protects the cell, your risk modulated or improved," said Dr. Joel Levine who runs an innovative colon cancer prevention program at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

This concept is "brand new," according to Dr. Levine. "Food becomes prevention."

There is one cautionary note – studies on the effects of dietary measures are on-going and sometimes the results are mixed. For instance, the jury is still out on whether folic acid and fiber actually lower the risk for the disease.

That all said, what else can you do? Dr. Levine says plenty. "Eat dairy products, but not too much, get your calcium up at the right level, get enough sunlight and Vitamin D," he told us.

Susan Tourtilotte, a mother of two in Simsbury, Connecticut, sought out Dr. Levine's advice shortly after her father died of colon cancer four years ago.

His death was devastating and also very scary for her family. "You know, after it is over, that's when the most frightening part sets in because you start looking into your medical past and seeing the skeletons in the closet," she said in an interview

Her uncle survived colon cancer, her aunt possibly had colon cancer, and another family member, a great uncle, had large bowel cancer.

"Just watch someone die of colon cancer and you'll be the first in line for a colonoscopy," she said.

Susan got her colonoscopy, but also decided to change her family's diet. She grew up in a big Irish family eating plenty of red meat -- roast beef dinners were served every Sunday. Now she serves her boys, William and Henry, fish, fruit and vegetables.

"I am going to set a different course and I think that's what my Dad would want," she said, holding back tears.

So what more proof do you need? I know it's not easy to get to the gym and scale back on the pizza, burgers and ice cream – I sure love all of those -- but isn't it a small sacrifice to prevent becoming another colon cancer statistic?

I'm going to try to make changes. Will you?