While it’s one of the most common cancers in women (and men), it’s also very preventable.
Although March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, it’s important to stay on top of the information essential to preventing the disease year-round. According to the National Cancer Institute, colorectal cancer is the third most common diagnosed cancer in men and women and the second leading cause of cancer deaths. When it comes to scheduling must-dos on our calendar, a colonoscopy is certainly at the bottom of our want-to-do list. But we know how vital this test is to our health and the prevention of colorectal cancer. And as women, our health and well being sometimes fall to the bottom of our to-do list.
Most colorectal cancers develop over a period of years and while not preventable in everyone, the earlier you detect the disease, the more curable it is. Here are five simple tips to help reduce your risk.
1. Live a healthy lifestyle
There are various dietary factors that play a role in colorectal cancer—one that consistently pops up in studies is red and processed meat. To lower your risk, eat fewer than two servings of red or processed meat per week, including foods such as steak, hamburgers and hot dogs.
Other lifestyle factors that increase the risk of colorectal cancer are obesity and physical inactivity, as these increase insulin levels that may help promote cancer cell growth. Ideally, adopt an exercise program of at least 150 minutes per week, but any amount is better than being inactive. Following this guideline can help you maintain good health and decrease your risk of colorectal cancer, along with many other diseases.
2. Dump bad habits
While you’re pumping up your physical activity, go ahead and purge the other areas of your life that can be roadblocks to good health. Quit smoking, drink alcohol in moderation, cut out sugar and sugar-laden drinks. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables and lean protein in lieu of processed and fast food. And drink plenty of water—the amount depends on your size and weight, activity level, and geographic location. In general, drink between half an ounce and an ounce of water for each pound you weigh, every day.
3. Eat nuts and drink coffee
That’s right—nuts of any kind—have been shown to have a positive effect on decreasing risk for pancreatic cancer and other diseases, including colorectal cancer. Nuts have been found to reduce rates of insulin resistance, which can increase the risk of colorectal cancer. Eating one ounce of nuts five or more times per week has been found to reduce death from all causes by 20 percent.
And coffee consumption also has been linked to a lower colorectal cancer risk, including for recurrent disease in survivors, as it seems to be associated with insulin-resistance pathways.
4. Know your family history
One of the major risk factors for colorectal cancer is heredity. This includes a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or having a genetic syndrome such as Lynch syndrome, which increases colorectal cancer risk, as well as the risk of developing endometrial or ovarian cancer. Individuals with a genetic syndrome tend to develop colorectal cancer at a younger than average age. These people account for five percent of all colorectal cancer patients, while those with a family history of the disease make up 15 percent of all cases.
One of the major risk factors for colorectal cancer is heredity. This includes a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or having a genetic syndrome such as Lynch syndrome, which increases colorectal cancer risk, as well as the risk of developing endometrial or ovarian cancer.
There are certain risk factors you can’t change: age (your risk increases as you get older), having had colorectal cancer or certain kinds of polyps before; history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease; race or ethnic background, such as being African American or Ashkenazi; Type 2 diabetes.
It’s simple to determine your risk—go online to hcamidwest.com/cancer for a quick survey that can help identify factors and learn more about colorectal cancer screening options and guidelines.
Bottom line: Pay attention to your family history and speak with your healthcare provider about screening if you think you are at an elevated risk. And of course, if you have any signs or symptoms, call your provider immediately.
5. Follow screening recommendations
Colorectal cancer is one of the cancers where there has been the most consistent evidence suggesting the benefits of screening. There are a variety of tests, including colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and fecal occult blood testing, to screen for colorectal cancer and polyps.
No matter the method, screening should begin for the general population at age 50. Those with risk factors, such as a family history, should discuss with their healthcare provider when to begin screening. Fecal occult blood tests should be done yearly, while colonoscopies are every eight to ten years and sigmoidoscopies every five years.