Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths globally. In the United States, it is the third most common type of cancer in both males and females. The cancer tends to affect the lower parts of the colon and the rectum is also involved. Therefore colon cancer is jointly referred to as colorectal cancer. To some extent, colon cancer is preventable and this can be achieved with a few simple dietary and lifestyle changes.
Prevention of Colon Cancer
Any person of any age can develop colon cancer. However, it is more likely to occur in people with certain risk factors. These risk factors are modifiable (meaning that it can be changed) or non-modifiable (where it cannot be changed). Non-modifiable risk factors include advancing age or family history. People older than 50 years of age are at a greater risk and age cannot be reversed. Similarly a familial predisposition cannot be undone.
Read more on high risk factors for colon cancer.
Reduce the Risk of Colon Cancer
However, the modifiable risk factors can be changed. With most of these risk factors, the change can be done immediately, with no medical intervention and usually with no cost. These modifiable risk factors form the basis of a prevention strategy. It is more effective for certain diseases than others. With regards to colon cancer, reducing exposure to these modifiable risk factors is highly effective.
It must be noted that despite this prevention strategy it is not a guarantee than colon cancer can be avoided altogether. This means that a person can avoid all of these risk factors and still develop colon cancer. However, this should not detract from the fact that by adopting these dietary and lifestyle changes, the risk of developing colon cancer can be significantly reduced.
Diet and Lifestyle Changes
Some of the dietary and lifestyle changes that can be beneficial for preventing colon cancer have been discussed in greater detail. Routine screening for colon cancer is still advisable for high risk individuals who make these changes. Always consult with a medical professional before making any major dietary or lifestyle changes, particularly when it comes to starting an exercise program or taking supplements.
Read more on signs of colon cancer.
There is no need to give up meat altogether but when it comes to colon cancer prevention, the quantity of meat has to be reduced. Red and processed meats in particular have been implicated with a higher risk of colon cancer. Recent studies have also confirmed that smoked and barbequed meat increase the risk to a large degree. Despite the numerous nutrients in meat, it is not essential on a daily basis.
Reduce Dietary Fat
Several studies have shown a link between high dietary fat intake and colon cancer risk. Fatty red meat that is processed, smoked or barbequed may rank as one of the worst possible choices but dietary fat from any source should be moderated. This includes fats from dairy and plant-based products like oils. However, fats should not be avoided entirely as it is essential for health. Moderation is the key for cancer prevention.
Eat More Plants
Fruits and vegetables have a host of health benefits and this is no different when it comes to colon cancer. Studies have show that the risk of colon cancer is lower in people who have a high fiber intake and eat more raw plant foods. Apart from the fiber within these foods, there are a host of phytochemicals (natural plant chemicals) including minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, which have a multitude of health benefits for cancer prevention.
Lose The Weight
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing many different diseases and this includes colorectal cancer. In fact many cancers are associated with obesity and this association is particularly strong when it comes to colon cancer. Therefore weight loss is an intergral part of colon cancer prevention if a person is overweight or obese. It has to be achieved through a combination of dietary and lifestyle changes, such as reducing calorie intake and exercising regularly.
Exercise is crucial in losing weight but it is also beneficial in colon cancer prevention among people who are not overweight or obese. There is a direct correlation between physical activity and colon cancer, particularly among people in the 30 to 50 year age group. Studies have consisently show that there is a lower risk of colorectal cancer among people who exercise regularly while there is an increased risk in people who live a sedentary lifestyle. Ideally an exercise program should incorporate a 30 minute workout 4 to 5 times a week.
Tobacco smoking is a well known major risk factor for developing almost any type of cancer. While it is more closely associated with throat and lung cancer, studies have shown a correlation between tobacco smoking and colon cancer. Quitting cigarette smoking or any other form of tobacco consumption is therefore important for colon cancer prevention. It is not just a matter of reducing tobacco consumption but stopping it altogether.
Cut Down on Alcohol
Certain alcoholic beverages are touted for its health benefits and some studies have confirmed this to a certain degree. However, this link between alcohol and health does not apply for all types of alcohol. Furthermore the quantity of alcohol consumed is also an important factor. Heavy alcohol consumption can increase the risk of a host of diseases and cancer is one of these diseases. Therefore alcohol consumption should be reduced if not stopped altogether.
Supplements Can Help
There are a number of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that are beneficial for health. Some studies have shown associations with these micronutritents, like zinc, folic acid and vitamin D, and a reduced risk of colon cancer. However, supplementation is not always necessarily. A person who is eating a balanced diet can acquire all these nutrients from foods provided that there is no underlying medical problems like malabsorption syndromes.
- Red meat. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1913932/
- Dietary fat. aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/160/10/1011.full
- Fruits, vegetables and fiber. jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/93/7/525.full
- Obesity. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3773450/
- Physical activity. ajl.sagepub.com/content/6/3/204.abstract
- Cigarette smoking. jnci.oxfordjournals.org/content/92/23/1888.full
- Alcohol consumption. annonc.oxfordjournals.org/content/early/2011/02/09/annonc.mdq653.long
- Supplements. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3819783/