If current trends continue, one in 20 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer over the course of his or her lifetime.
Yet the latest research shows that Americans can prevent many of these cancers through what we eat, how much we weigh and how much we move – and through screening tests.
Recommendations to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer come from the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) and World Cancer Research Fund's 2010 Continuous Update Project (CUP) Report on Colorectal Cancer. The AICR report, which is the most comprehensive ever published on the link between cancer risk and lifestyle, includes specific lifestyle-related steps to reduce the risk for colorectal and many other cancers.
Fit activity into your day. From housecleaning to walking and working out, the latest report finds that moderate physical activity of all types reduces the risk of colon cancer. Start slow. Find 10 minutes to move. Whether taking a break at work or while watching TV, jog in place, walk the stairs or do chair exercises. Build on that over time by taking more activity breaks or extending the time to 30 minutes.
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is linked to increased risk of colorectal cancer. Carrying excess belly fat – regardless of your weight – is a risk factor for colorectal cancer. Watch your food portions. Choose smaller servings of calorie-packed foods like meats, cheese, juice and nuts. Limit desserts and sweets to two or three times a week in small portions.
Eat plenty of fiber. For every 10 grams of fiber consumed daily – slightly less than a cup of beans – the risk of colorectal cancer is reduced by 10 percent. Fill two-thirds of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts and no more than one-third with animal protein such as poultry or lean red meat.
Reduce red or processed meat in your diet. Eating too much red meat and processed meat increases colorectal cancer risk. The CUP report shows that ounce for ounce, consuming processed meat increases the risk twice as much as consuming red meat. Processed meats include hot dogs, bacon, sausage and deli meats. Limit red meat consumption to 18 ounces per week and avoid processed meat.
Limit alcohol consumption. Drinking three or more alcoholic beverages per day increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Limit alcoholic drinks to two standard size servings for men, one for women. Become aware of how much a standard drink size is by filling a glass you use at home with 5 ounces of wine, 12 oz. beer and 1.5 ounces of liquor. Celebrate festive occasions with nonalcoholic beverages too.
Stop smoking. Cigarette smoking is linked to an increased risk of, and death from, colorectal cancer.
In addition to lifestyle, other factors outside your control can increase the risk of colon cancer. According to the ACIR, having a family history of colorectal cancer – a parent, brother, sister, or child with colorectal cancer – doubles a person's risk of colorectal cancer. Having a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease increases risk too.
The risk of colorectal cancer increases with age. Colon cancer screening is recommended for most individuals starting at age 50.
Significant progress in the prevention and early detection of colorectal cancer is possible by increasing access to and use of colorectal cancer screening tests.
According to the American Cancer Society, while large declines in colorectal cancer incidence and death rates in the past decade have been attributed to increased colonoscopy use, only about half of individuals aged 50 or older, for whom screening is recommended, follow through with having colorectal cancer testing.
That’s why Riverwood has launched a community-wide campaign to bring awareness to the importance of colon cancer screening. We now have a dedicated Colon Health Nurse line, 844-752-9524, for patients to call with any questions about the colonoscopy procedure or other colon cancer screening tests. At the Aitkin Commerce Show on March 14-15, Riverwood’s booth will focus on colon cancer prevention and screening.
Ask your health care provider about your colorectal cancer risks and screening options. The steps you take today could save your life.
Chad Cooper is the chief executive officer for Riverwood Healthcare Center, overseeing a 25-bed hospital in Aitkin and three clinics in Aitkin, Garrison and McGregor.