Colon cancer, also known as colorectal, rectal or bowel cancer, affects the large intestine (colon), which is the lower part of your digestive system. It is the third most common cancer in the United States, with 140,000 people diagnosed each year.
According to the American Cancer Society, one in 20 Americans risk developing colon cancer during their lifetime.
Most cases of colon cancer begin as small, noncancerous clumps of cells known as polyps, which become cancerous over time. Because polyps produce few symptoms, this cancer is often diagnosed at later stages.
People who do experience symptoms may notice a sudden change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in the stool, persistent abdominal discomfort, a constant feeling that their system is not clean, weakness and unexplained weight loss.
The exact cause of colon cancer is not known, however certain factors increase your risk. These include aging, family history, inflammatory intestinal conditions, excessive drinking, smoking, obesity, diabetes, radiation therapy, a sedentary lifestyle and a low-fiber, high-fat diet. African-Americans are also more likely to develop colon cancer.
While some of these factors are unavoidable, you can still control some of them to reduce your risk. Simple lifestyle changes can protect you and the ones you love from this deadly cancer.
Here are the top 10 ways to reduce your risk of colon cancer.
1. Exercise Daily
One of the main causes of colon cancer is a sedentary lifestyle. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, physical inactivity has been linked to increased risk of certain cancers, such as colon, endometrial and lung cancer, along with diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease.
Exercising regularly is important for a healthy body. If you’ve been inactive, start slowly and include some sort of physical activities in your daily routine. Even walking for 30 minutes daily will make you healthier.
Also, choose activities that you enjoy like brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, dancing or gardening. You can also join a gym and work with a personal trainer.
2. Fight Obesity
By getting rid of extra weight around your waistline, you can reduce your risk of developing colon cancer. Research shows that overweight and obese people are more likely to get colon cancer.
A high body mass index (BMI) is also associated with rectal cancer risk as well as many chronic diseases, such as heart disease, strokes and Type 2 diabetes.
If you are obese or have extra fat around your waist, start eating healthier and exercise at least 30 minutes per day to control your weight. Aim to lose weight slowly. You can always consult your doctor about healthy ways to achieve your goal.
3. Drink Less Alcohol
To prevent colon cancer, drink less alcohol or avoid it completely. Along with colon cancer, alcohol is a known cause of cancers of the mouth, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), esophagus, liver and breast.
Excessive alcohol intake damages tissues, leading to DNA changes in the cells and gradually cancer. In addition, the bacteria in the colon can convert alcohol into large amounts of acetaldehyde, a chemical that causes cancer.
A 2002 study published in the journal titled Gut shows that excessive alcohol consumption increases the likelihood of developing high-risk adenomas or colorectal cancer in patients with at least one colorectal adenoma.
If you drink, limit your intake. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. A single drink means 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of table wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof hard liquor.
4. Cut Red and Processed Meats from your Diet
You must avoid high consumption of red and processed meat to reduce your risk of cancer in the distal portion of your large intestine.
A 2010 study published in the Cancer Research journal found a positive association between red and processed meat intake and colorectal cancer.
Researchers found that heme iron, nitrate/nitrite and heterocyclic amines from meat may explain these associations.
- If you need to eat red meat, limit yourself to two 4-ounce portions a week. In addition, choose lean cuts, trim the fat and avoid charring the meat on a grill.
- Do not eat processed, salted, smoked or cured meats, such as bacon, sausage, hot dogs and deli meats. If you do eat these products, have no more than 2 servings a week.
5. Eat Fiber-Rich Foods
By increasing your fiber intake, you can reduce your risk of colon as well as mouth, throat, prostate and esophageal cancers.
A 2015 study published in the Nature Communications journal showed that increased fiber intake decreases the risk of colorectal cancer.
Fiber adds bulk to your stool and shortens the amount of time that waste travels through the colon. This prevents the intestinal cells from being affected by carcinogens.
In addition, when bacteria in the large intestine break down fiber, the process produces butyrate that inhibits the growth of cancerous cells in the colon and rectum.
Good sources of fiber include wheat bran, whole-wheat products, oats, quinoa, apples, strawberries, beans, legumes, raw cabbage, crunchy vegetables, and whole grains.
6. Get Regular Screenings
The American Cancer Society recommends colon cancer screening beginning at age 45 for people with a family history of cancer. Others can opt for regular screenings after age 50.
Although screenings cannot stop you from getting colon cancer, it enables early detection, when cancer is much easier to treat.
Some screening options include colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, fecal occult blood test and fecal immunochemical test. Consult your doctor to determine which tests are appropriate for you.
7. Quit Smoking
Heavy, long-term cigarette smoking is associated with increased risk of colorectal cancer as well as lung, stomach and esophageal cancers.
Cigarette smoke contains many carcinogens that damage the DNA and, overtime, the body is not able to repair that damage. This in turn causes cancer.
A 2009 study published in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal pointed out that long-term cigarette smoking is associated with colorectal cancer, even after controlling for screening and multiple other risk factors.
If you smoke, it is time to break your habit. You can always get help from your doctor as well as friends and family members to increase your chances of quitting successfully.
8. Get Enough Vitamin D
By simply preventing a low vitamin D level in your body, you can reduce your risk of colon cancer.
A 2011 systematic review and meta-analysis of prospective studies on colorectal cancer published in the Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention journal suggests that improving one’s vitamin D status could potentially be beneficial against colorectal cancer.
Vitamin D helps regulate cell growth, limit inflammation and even prevents cancer cells from spreading.
- Expose yourself to early morning sunlight without sunscreen for 15 minutes daily to help your body produce vitamin D.
- Eat foods rich in vitamin D, such as fish, cod liver oil, egg yolks and fortified dairy and grain products.
- You can also take a vitamin D supplement, after consulting your doctor.
9. Eat Cancer-Fighting Foods
A well-planned diet plays a key role in preventing colon cancer. It’s important to include foods rich in antioxidants and phytochemicals that offer anticancer benefits.
- Eat ½ to 2 cups of boiled or steamed broccoli, 3 times a week.
- Drink 3 to 4 cups of green tea daily instead of coffee.
- Eat 1 cup of sliced tomatoes daily.
- Drink 2 to 3 cups of ginger tea daily and include ginger in your cooking.
- Eat 2 to 3 raw garlic cloves daily.
- Eat 1 cup of spinach, 3 or 4 times a week, by adding it to your salads, soups, smoothies or mixed vegetable juices.
- Eat ½ cup of pomegranate daily. You can add it to your morning cereal, smoothies and fruit salads.
- Eat 1 ounce of walnuts daily (7 shelled walnuts).
- Eat ½ to 1 cup of grapes daily.
Meanwhile, avoid foods preserved with sodium nitrite, cut your sugar intake and avoid excess salt as well as processed and deep-fried foods. In addition, drink plenty of water to improve digestion and your overall health.
10. Avoid Unnecessary Antibiotics
While an appropriate dose of antibiotics is necessary and important for treating a number of bacterial infections, excessive use of antibiotics can increase your risk of several cancers, including colon, prostate, breast and lung.
A 2008 study published in the International Journal of Cancer points out that excess antibiotic use predicts an increased risk of cancer.
Overuse of antibiotics tends to weaken the immune system by killing both good as well as bad bacteria.
Never take any antibiotic without asking your doctor. When given a prescribed antibiotic, be sure to ask your doctor about any side effects.