Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers today. Data shows that colon and rectal cancer, known as colorectal cancers collectively, causes nearly 50,000 deaths per year. Moreover, it is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women. What’s worse, colon cancer rates have been rising by as much as 2 percent yearly in younger adults.
Most colorectal cancers start as a growth on the inner lining of the colon or rectum, known as polyps. While most polyps do not become cancer, some of them can become carcinogenic over time. Fortunately, you can reduce your colorectal cancer risk by making a few changes in your lifestyle. Here are the most important ones.
1. Be physically active
Research shows that regular exercise can help reduce your risk of colon cancer by almost 40 percent. A 2019 study found that physical activity, apart from preventing about 15 percent of colon cancers, can also decrease the chance of its recurrence. Another 2017 study indicates that a sedentary lifestyle, especially sitting for prolonged periods, increases the risk of colorectal cancer in adults.
Exercise can also reduce your chances of developing obesity and diabetes – two other risk factors of colon cancer.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is another way to reduce your risk of colon cancer. The National Cancer Institute says that people who are overweight or have obesity are 30 percent more likely to develop colon cancer than those who don’t have these conditions. Furthermore, a 2016 review found that the effects of obesity can increase a person’s risk of developing colon cancer.
Studies also show that extra fat in the waist area may increase colon cancer risk.
3. Limit processed red meat
Research suggests that diets high in red and processed meats such as beef, pork, steak, salami, hot dogs, or lamb, have been found to raise the risk of colon cancer.
Furthermore, a 2015 meta-analysis also concluded that consuming high quantities of red meat and processed meats can shoot up your colon cancer risk by 20 to 30 percent. A 2007 study that analyzed whether having red and processed meat increased cancer risk found “significantly elevated risks” in those participants who consumed the highest amount of processed meat.
4. Quit smoking
We don’t need to tell you why smoking is dangerous to your health. But it turns out that the unhealthy habit can also increase your risk of colorectal cancer. Scientists say that this might be because inhaled smoke or swallowed tobacco carries carcinogens to the colon.
A study by the American Cancer Society showed that long-term cigarette smoking is linked with a higher risk of colorectal cancer mortality in both women and men. The study also states that quitting smoking early reduces that risk over time. Another 12-year study of over 180,000 people showed similar results.
An exhaustive 2020 meta-analysis concluded that cigarette smoking increases the risk of colon cancer. It states that the risk increases linearly with smoking intensity and duration and decreases with quitting.
5. Add more plant-based foods to your diet
A great way to keep your colon cancer-free is by adding more plant-based foods to your diet. Diets high in whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables can lessen your risk of colon cancer, research shows.
A 2017 study found that consuming fiber, fruit, and vegetables decreases the risk of developing colon cancer. Another 2015 study indicates that following a plant-based diet can cut down the risk of colon cancer by 49 percent.
So, if you're not following a plant-based diet, now is the time to start. Green veggies and cabbage, in particular, have been shown to weaken cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying.
6. Reduce alcohol consumption
Alcohol has several different effects on the body, and the colon can be affected by the heavy use of alcohol. One study showed consuming more than four standard drinks a day raises the risk of colon cancer by 21 percent. A new study by the World Health Organization found a link between alcohol consumption and a higher risk of colon cancer. Other recent studies have also suggested the same.
Alcohol by itself is not carcinogenic. However, experts say that gut bacteria turn alcohol into the carcinogen acetaldehyde. Try and limit yourself to a drink or two per day or less to prevent those toxins from building up.
7. Increase your Vitamin D intake
Getting enough vitamin D is vital for the proper growth and development of bones and teeth. It’s also important for developing improved resistance to certain diseases, including colorectal cancer. A 2018 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that low levels of vitamin D raised colon cancer risk by 31 percent in almost 13,000 adults.
An easy way to boost your Vitamin D intake is to spend time in the sunlight, as the sun is a great source of this nutrient. You can also get some vitamin D supplements from your local pharmacy. Adding vitamin D-rich foods to your diet might be beneficial as well. Check our article on Food Items That Are Chock Full of Vitamin D for more information.
8. Get screened
One of the best ways to protect yourself from colon cancer is by getting screened before the development symptoms. Research shows that one in four people has polyps by age 50. Colorectal cancer screenings can catch polyps before they develop into cancer. Doctors can then make sure that colon cancer is nipped in the bud by removing the polyps.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Gastroenterology recommend starting your colon cancer screenings at age 45. If a polyp is detected, the doctor may recommend frequent screenings to gauge its growth. For most people with normal test results, one screening every 10 years is usually considered standard. Anyone between age 76 and 85 with normal test results should ask their doctor if they need to continue screenings.
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