According to statistics from the American Cancer Society in 2016 an estimated 49,190 Americans are expected to die from colorectal cancer and this is really worrisome if you consider the fact that this cancer is “preventable, beatable, and treatable”. So why do so many people die every year? The simplest lifestyle improvements and regular screenings can help you protect yourself and prevent this disease; you just need to know how. Colorectal cancer is one of the two types of cancer which can be prevented through screening (the other is cervical). Here are some useful tips which can help you better understand this cancer and how to protect yourself from it.
Screen And Save
Colorectal cancer usually starts with a polyp, a small growth on the lining of the rectum or colon. When it appears the polyp is not malignant at first and if noticed immediately can be easily removed. Regular screenings can help you catch these polyps before they turn malignant and thus prevent the possibility of colorectal cancer.
But how can you know if you need regular checkups? Is there a high-risk group and a low risk group, or should we all do it? First we need to say that it affects both men and women and the gender doesn’t play a role. However, age certainly does and the CDC recommends everyone over 50 to get regular screenings because they are at a higher risk. Moreover, if you have a family history of polyps, uterine cancer, colon cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease you should also consider regular screenings because you’re at a higher risk.
So what does screening involve? Four tests are used for this: fecal occult blood test, barium enema, sigmoidoscopy, and colonoscopy. Consult with your doctor and determine the best course of action for you.
Keep Tabs On Lifestyle Factors
Surprisingly, colorectal cancer wasn’t so common in the US before the 20th century, but there’s been a sharp increase in the last hundred years. Furthermore, around the globe, industrialized countries are more and more at risk of colorectal cancers, although the occurrences in less developed countries are increasing as well, mostly as they adopt a more Western lifestyle. This leads us to conclude that environmental and lifestyle factors play a major role in increasing the risk for colorectal cancer.
The following aspects can have an impact on your risk for colorectal cancer.
As with many other diseases, obesity increases the risk of colorectal cancer as well. You should check your BMI index and make sure you maintain a healthy weight if you want to lower the risk of this cancer. The main thing you should do if you want to maintain a healthy weight is exercise regularly and follow a healthier diet.
- Lowering the intake of processed or cured meat (ham, sausages, and bacon) and red meat (beef, venison, and pork) can help you avoid colorectal cancer. If you daily consume around 90 g of processed and red meat, lower it down to 70g. How you cook your meat also seems to have an impact on the risk for colorectal cancer – cooking at high temperatures for a long time increases the risk as well.
- Diet rich in fiber helps you move waste through the digestive tract faster and prevents toxic build up in the digestive system. Increase your fiber intake by consuming more whole-grain cereals, sprouts, beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables. You can’t go wrong if you lower your intake of refined carbohydrates as well.
- The role of calcium and vitamin D in the prevention of colon cancer has been a focus of research. The World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) published a review which states that calcium could have a protective effect against cancer. The optimal daily intake of calcium should be at least 1000 mg/day. 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. Vitamin D naturally and through supplementation is considered a low-cost means of reducing cancer incidence and mortality.
- Antioxidants fight off the free radicals in your body and prevent cell damage, thus reducing the risk of cancer. Try eating foods rich in antioxidants like carotene and beta-carotene. The best sources for these antioxidants are red, yellow, orange, and green veggies. Green tea is also a good source of antioxidants.
- It’s widely known that folic acid is an excellent cancer fighter. It stimulates new cell and tissue formation and keeps red blood cells active and healthy. Try consuming folic acid through natural sources like spinach, sprouts, and citrus fruits, or opt for supplements.
- Berries are starting to get attention in the fight against cancer thanks to a group of phytochemicals called polyphenols. According to a study from Medical College of Wisconsin black raspberries and strawberries were found to inhibit colon cancer by 80% in rats. Even though it’s yet to be proven if they’re effective in humans, the researchers are hopeful of a positive outcome.
Sedentary lifestyle and physical inactivity increase the risk of any type of cancer, including colorectal. Physical activity and regular exercise is essential in preventing and lowering the risk of cancer. Get active and start exercising if you want to keep cancer at bay. According to experts you need to do at least two and a half hours of moderate physical activity a week for full protection.
It’s no secret that smoking increases the risk for various cancers including colorectal cancer. Nicotine is known to have links to stomach and colorectal cancers and long-term smokers especially are at greater risk. If you’re a smoker you need to stop!
Studies have shown that alcohol increases the risk of colorectal cancer significantly mainly because it depletes the folic acid which is essential in the fight against cancer. Experts recommend a maximum of 14 units of alcohol a week (a unit of alcohol is the amount of pure alcohol contained in a beverage; this is usually mentioned on the bottle or can). However, the 14 units should be evenly distributed over the course of a few days, not taken at once.