How To Prevent Colorectal Cancer
Go for regular screen tests if you're 50 or have a family history of polyps, cancer, or IBD. Avoid red meat or processed meat. Load up on fibrous and colorful veggies and antioxidant-rich berries. Eat dairy products for calcium and spinach and sprouts for folic acid. Exercise in the sun for vitamin D and to keep obesity at bay. Go easy on the booze and stop smoking altogether.
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer or cancer of the rectum or colon was expected to cause around 49,190 deaths in 2016.1 What is heartening though is that deaths due to colorectal cancer have dropped considerably over the last couple of decades. That is because it is one of the two cancers that are “preventable, beatable, and treatable,” the other one being cervical cancer. Do you have these symptoms and risk factors of colorectal cancer?
Getting yourself screened and managing your lifestyle better can help you prevent colorectal cancer.2Here are the steps you should take to prevent colon cancer and rectal cancer.
Screen For Polyps In The Colorectal Passage
Colorectal cancer usually starts with a polyp, a small growth on the lining of the rectum or colon. This polyp is not yet malignant and can be easily removed once detected. Screening can help detect these precancerous growths.
If You Are 50 Or Older
Age is a risk factor. Almost 90 out of 100 people with colorectal cancer are 50 or older. The chances of diagnosis rise progressively after you turn 40 and sharply after you turn 50. Get screened regularly once you turn 50.3 Gender does not seem to be a major risk factor, though men are slightly more at risk, possibly due to lifestyle risk factors.
If You Have A Family History Of Polyps And Cancer
Your genes are another risk factor. About 5 to 10% of colorectal cancer cases are due to hereditary conditions like tumors in the colon (FAP) and Lynch syndrome. If you have a family history of polyps, uterine cancer, colon cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease, screen regularly, even before you turn 50.
So what does screening involve? Four tests are used for this:
- Fecal occult blood test checks under the microscope whether the stool contains traces of blood, which indicates polyps or cancer in the colorectal passage.
- Barium enema test involves passing barium into the gastrointestinal tract through an enema. X-rays of the gastrointestinal tract are then taken and checked for abnormalities.
- Sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy involve inserting a thin tube with a lens into the anus to check for abnormalities. Polyps or tissue samples can also be removed and checked for cancer.4
Keep Tabs On Lifestyle Factors
Interestingly, colorectal cancer was fairly uncommon in the States before the 20th century, but there’s been a sharp increase – in tandem with economic development – in the last 100 years. Today, the majority of colorectal cancers occur in industrialized countries. The rates are picking up in less developed countries too as they adopt a more Western lifestyle.5 This points to the role of environmental and lifestyle factors in increasing the risk for colorectal cancer.
The following aspects can have an impact on your risk for colorectal cancer.
1. Check Your Diet
- Reduce Eating Red And Processed Meat
Eating less processed or cured meat (ham, sausages, and bacon) and less red meat (beef, venison, and pork) can help you avoid colorectal cancer. If you eat more than 90 g of processed and red meat a day, try and bring it down to 70 g.6 Cooking the meat at high temperatures for a long time can release carcinogenic compounds and increase cancer risk.7
- Eat More Fiber
A good fiber intake moves wastes through the digestive tract faster and prevents toxic wastes from staying in the digestive system. Up your fiber quotient with foods like whole-grain cereals, sprouts, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables.8 It is also a good idea to have less refined carbohydrates like white flour.9
- Eat Colorful Veggies And Berries
Eat foods rich in antioxidants to fight off free radicals and prevent cell and tissue damage. Antioxidants like carotene and beta-carotene are useful in fighting free radicals. Foods rich in these antioxidants include red, yellow, orange, and green veggies. Green tea is also rich in antioxidants.
Berries are also pitched as effective cancer fighters because of a group of antioxidant plant chemicals called polyphenols. In a Medical College of Wisconsin study, berries like black raspberries and strawberries were found to inhibit colon cancer by 80% in rats. While their anti-cancer properties in humans are being studied further, the researchers have endorsed their positive role in cancer prevention.10
- Eat Spinach For Folic Acid
Folic acid is an established cancer fighter. It enables new cell and tissue formation and keeps red blood cells active and healthy. While folic acid supplements are widely available, increase your intake through natural sources like spinach, sprouts, and citrus fruits.11
- Take Enough Calcium And Vitamin D
According to a World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) review, calcium may have a protective effect against cancer. At least 1000 mg/day of calcium a day is optimal. Natural sources of calcium include dairy products such as milk.
Vitamin D is best had from its natural source – sunlight. Try soaking in the early morning sun for about 10–15 minutes each day. You may also take supplements.12 See if you are eating these anticancer foods too.
2. Exercise To Maintain A Healthy Weight
Obesity, which is a risk factor for many diseases, has an uneasy link to colon cancer too.13 Check your body mass index (BMI) to ensure that you are at a healthy weight. Eating healthy and exercising can also keep those pounds at bay.14
Exercise is crucial for preventing any type of cancer. A sedentary lifestyle and long sitting habits add to the risks of colorectal cancer. So get up and take that walk! Experts recommend about 2.5 hours of moderate aerobic exercise (say fast walking or cycling) every week.15
3. Give Up Smoking
Smoking is a known risk factor for various cancers and colorectal cancer is no exception. Nicotine is known to have links to stomach and colorectal cancers16 and long-term smokers especially are at greater risk.17 So if you smoke, it’s time to stop!
4. Cut Down On Alcohol
Alcohol use has been linked to a higher risk of cancers of the rectum and colon.18 Drinking also depletes folic acid, which is crucial in preventing cancers.
It is advisable not to have more than 14 units (a unit of alcohol is the amount of pure alcohol contained in an alcoholic beverage; this is usually mentioned on the bottle or can) of alcohol per week or 2 drinks per day – for women the quota is just 1 drink a day. And if you have just about 14 units a week, space it out over 3 days or more.19
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Key statistics for colorectal cancer. American Cancer Society.|
|2.||↑||You can stop colon cancer before it starts. American Cancer Society.|
|3.||↑||Colorectal (colon) cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|4.||↑||Colorectal Cancer Screening (PDQ®)–Patient Version. National Cancer Institute.|
|5.||↑||Curado, Maria-Paula, Brenda Edwards, Hai Rim Shin, Hans Storm, Jacques Ferlay, Mary Heanue, and Peter Boyle. Cancer incidence in five continents, Volume IX. IARC Press, International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2007.|
|6, 8, 14, 15, 16, 19.||↑||Preventing bowel cancer. National Health Service.|
|7.||↑||Sinha, Rashmi, Wong Ho Chow, Martin Kulldorff, John Denobile, James Butler, Montserrat Garcia-Closas, Rusty Weil, Robert N. Hoover, and Nathaniel Rothman. “Well-done, grilled red meat increases the risk of colorectal adenomas.” Cancer Research 59, no. 17 (1999): 4320-4324.|
|9.||↑||Chan, Andrew T., and Edward L. Giovannucci. “Primary prevention of colorectal cancer.” Gastroenterology 138, no. 6 (2010): 2029-2043.|
|10.||↑||Stoner, Gary D., Li-Shu Wang, Nancy Zikri, Tong Chen, Stephen S. Hecht, Chuanshu Huang, Christine Sardo, and John F. Lechner. “Cancer prevention with freeze-dried berries and berry components.” In Seminars in cancer biology, vol. 17, no. 5, pp. 403-410. Academic Press, 2007.|
|11.||↑||Keum, NaNa, and Edward L. Giovannucci. “Folic acid fortification and colorectal cancer risk.” American journal of preventive medicine 46, no. 3 (2014): S65-S72.|
|12.||↑||Huncharek, Michael, Joshua Muscat, and Bruce Kupelnick. “Colorectal cancer risk and dietary intake of calcium, vitamin D, and dairy products: a meta-analysis of 26,335 cases from 60 observational studies.” Nutrition and cancer 61, no. 1 (2008): 47-69.|
|13.||↑||Frezza, Eldo E., Mitchell S. Wachtel, and Maurizio Chiriva-Internati. “Influence of obesity on the risk of developing colon cancer.” Gut 55, no. 2 (2006): 285-291.|
|17.||↑||Wong, Helen Pui Shan, L. E. Yu, Emily Kai Yee Lam, Emily Kin Ki Tai, William Ka Kei Wu, and Chi-Hin Cho. “Nicotine promotes colon tumor growth and angiogenesis through β-adrenergic activation.” Toxicological Sciences 97, no. 2 (2007): 279-287.|
|18.||↑||Alcohol Use and Cancer. American Cancer Society.|