By David Althouse
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths
for men and women combined. Regular screenings and maintaining a
healthy lifestyle are the keys to preventing colorectal cancer from developing.
“We found a cancerous polyp in your colon.”
I have personally experienced the terrifying effect of hearing those words uttered from a gastroenterologist who had, several days before, performed my third colorectal screening, or colonoscopy.
I knew this cancer ran in my family, as it had already claimed a brother some years previously. It took the loss of a loved one to motivate me and other family members to begin regularly scheduled colorectal screenings.
Despite the fact that this cancer runs in my family, and despite the fact that the polyp found in my body had already transformed into the cancerous stage, I am here today because of a timely screening in January 2011.
While the chances are small that you carry a similar genetic predisposition to colorectal cancer, the fact remains that this cancer remains the second-leading cancer killer of men and women combined in the United States.
If current trends continue, one in 20 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer over the course of his or her lifetime, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Screening, which is the process of looking for cancer or pre-cancer in people who have no symptoms of the disease, is one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colorectal cancer. In many cases, regular screening can prevent colorectal cancer altogether, as most polyps can be found and removed before they have a chance to turn into cancer. Regular screenings can also identify colorectal cancer early, when it is highly curable.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends regular screening, beginning at age 50, to prevent colorectal cancer. The U.S. Prevention Services Task Force recommends screening for colorectal cancer using high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy beginning at age 50 years and continuing until age 75.
You may need to begin screenings much earlier if you or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer; if you have inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis; or if you have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).
If you have a family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, consult with your doctor about genetic counseling to review your family medical tree and to determine how likely it is that you have one of these syndromes, and discuss if genetic testing is something you should pursue. This can help you decide to begin taking measures against colorectal cancer, like getting screened and treated at an early age.
Regardless of your family medical history, consult your doctor to determine when you should have your first colonoscopy and how often you should have them moving forward.
Take the word of someone who is here today because of a well-timed colonoscopy – get checked!
In addition to regular screenings, there are numerous lifestyle measures that can minimize the likelihood of colorectal cancer developing in your body.
In February 2012, the AICRcited recent research showing Americans can prevent tens of thousands of such cancers through what we eat, how much we weigh, and how much we move.
“Research now shows that 45 percent of colorectal cancers in the United States are preventable each year through diet, staying a healthy weight, and being physically active,” said AICR Registered Dietitian Alice Bender. “That’s about 64,000 cases every year.”
These recommendations stem from AICR and World Cancer Research Fund’s 2010 Continuous Update Project Report, the most comprehensive account ever published on the link between cancer risk and lifestyle.
“Shifting into these healthy habits isn’t easy, but there are concrete steps you can take now to reduce your risk for colorectal and many other cancers,” Bender said.
The CUP report lists six recommendations.
Recent reports find that moderate physical activity reduces the risk of colon cancer. Find ten minutes a day to move. Whether taking a break at work or whilewatching television, you can jog in place, walk the stairs, or perform push-ups. Build on that over time by extending the duration of these mini workouts.
Maintain a healthy weight and fight belly fat
One of the key findings from the CUP report is that excess body fat is linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer. The report also concludes that carrying excess belly fat – regardless of your weight – is a risk factor for colorectal cancer. Fight belly fat by becoming portion-size savvy. Choose smaller portions of calorie-packed foods like meat, cheese, juice and nuts. Limit desserts and sweets to two or three times per week in small amounts.
Eat plenty of fiber
Today, the evidence is clearer than ever: eating a high-fiber diet can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. For every 10 grams of fiber consumed daily – slightly less than a cup of beans – the risk of colorectal cancer is reduced by 10 percent. Fill two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts, and no more than one-third with animal protein such as poultry or lean red meat.
Cut the red meat; avoid the processed
The latest CUP finding reaffirms earlier evidence that eating too much red meat and processed meat increases the risk of colorectal cancer. The report shows that, ounce for ounce, consuming processed meat increases the risk twice as much as consuming red meat. Processed meats include hot dogs, bacon, sausage and deli meats. Limit red meat consumption to 18 ounces per week – roughly the equivalent of five or six small cooked portions of beef, lamb or pork – and avoid processed meat. For sandwiches, incorporate chicken breast, hummus or peanut butter into your diet.
The CUP report finds convincing evidence that drinking alcohol increases colorectal cancer risk in men, and it probably increases the risk in women. The report advises: If you don’t drink, don’t start. For those who already drink, limit the alcohol to no more than two standard drinks daily for men, one for women.Be aware of how much a standard drink is by measuring the following amounts and pouring it into your glassware: 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, and 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Eat plenty of garlic
The CUP report judgment of evidence suggests that a diet filled with relatively high amounts of garlic reduces the risk of colorectal cancer. Add chopped garlic to stews, roasted meats, stir fries and vegetables. Chop the garlic, then wait 10 to 15 minutes before cooking in order to activate the health-promoting ingredients.
Other studies suggest that vitamin D – normally found in sun exposure, certain foods, or in a vitamin pill – can lower colorectal cancer risk. Because excessive sun exposure can cause skin cancer, many experts do not recommend this as a way to lower colorectal cancer risk. This writer takes vitamin D daily in the form of a vitamin pill.
Take it from someone whose family has experienced the horrific consequences of colorectal cancer caught too late: take good care of yourself, and get screened!
For more information about colorectal cancer prevention, visit the website of the American Institute of Cancer Research at www.aicr.org.