Experts are predicting that cancer will surpass heart disease by 2020 to become the leading cause of death in the United States. Contracting any kind of cancer is scary, so we need to do what we can, lifestyle-wise, to lower our risk. Colon (colorectal) cancer is one type that has some risk factors we can control.
According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women, and the second leading cause in men. It is expected to cause about 50,260 deaths during 2017. Since March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, let’s cut to the chase to see what you can do personally to lower your risk:
Weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women, but the link seems stronger in men. If you are an “apple” shape (more belly fat) instead of a “pear” shape, that may push the risk even higher.
Physical activity: The colon is actually made up of several layers. It is important that food waste move through the colon as quickly as possible to avoid the growth of polyps. A polyp is a benign, non-cancerous tumor.
Picture your large intestine as an assembly line with a quality control inspector at the helm. As waste moves along your personal conveyor belt, your body (as the inspector) separates the useful things you can use and sends the rest along for disposal. The longer waste sits in your colon or rectum, the more time harmful compounds have to leach out of the stool and into the tissues of your intestine.
When you move your body, you also move waste more rapidly through your colon. How? Physical activity stimulates peristalsis. Peristalsis generates muscular contractions that help push waste through your colon. The less time the layers of your colon are exposed to potential carcinogens, the better.
Diet: Overall, diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with lower colorectal cancer risk, although it’s not exactly clear which factors are important. Studies have found an increased colon cancer risk with a higher consumption of red meat (beef, pork, and lamb) and/or processed meats (such as hot dogs, sausage, and lunch meats).
In recent years, some large studies have suggested that fiber in the diet, especially from whole grains, may lower colorectal cancer risk. Research in this area is still on-going.
Alcohol: Several studies have found a higher risk of colorectal cancer with increased alcohol intake, especially among men.
We can control (1) what we eat and drink, (2) how much we move, and (3) how much we weigh. If you can possibly achieve success in all three factors, it will give you the strongest protection against this deadly disease.
Written by: Donna Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, email@example.com
Reviewed by: Beth Stefura, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Mahoning County, firstname.lastname@example.org