Have you noticed more people wearing blue this month? This is because March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a time for people to think about a part of their body that they don’t often reflect upon– the colon. It’s a very important organ that helps maintain the crucial balance of fluid and electrolytes in the body through the storage and elimination of waste.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the country. Here are just a few important statistics on colorectal cancer:
- More than 90 percent of all cases diagnosed in patients over 50.
- 137,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year.
- More than 50,000 patients succumb to this disease each year.
These statistics are certainly scary, but there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel. Colorectal cancer also happens to be one of the more preventable forms of cancer. In addition to getting routine screenings after you turn 50, here are 6 steps you can take to lower your risk of colorectal cancer:
1) Monitor Your Alcohol Consumption
High consumption of alcohol has been identified as a risk for colon cancer. Studies have shown that more moderate levels of consumption can help reduce cancer risk. Women should consider keeping their intake to one drink per day and men to no more than two drinks daily.
2) Don’t Smoke Cigarettes
Smoking is a well known risk factor for lung cancer, but studies have shown that it increases a person’s risk for all digestive system cancers, including:
- Colorectal (colon) cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Esophageal cancer
Current smokers are strongly encouraged to consider quitting this unhealthy habit as soon as possible.
3) Exercise Regularly
Research has shown that regular physical fitness can effectively fortify the digestive system against the development of colon cancer. Studies suggest that adults over 50 can reduce their risk by as much as 50 percent by staying active, compared to less active adults. This positive benefit also seems to be unaffected by the individual’s current weight.
4) Maintain a Healthy Weight
On a related note, obesity has been strongly associated with colorectal cancer. Researchers theorize that a person’s individual risk increases by as much as 15 percent for every additional 5 points of body mass above the recommended healthy BMI range for their age range. Dropping 5 points on your BMI scale will have a significant impact on your risk for colon cancer.
5) Eat Less Red and Processed Meats
Experts have found that a diet high in red and processed meats is a major risk factor for colorectal cancer. One study looked at diets of participants between the ages of 50 and 71. Those that ate an average of 5 ounces of red meat per day had a 24 percent higher chance of developing colon cancer compared to individuals with the lowest intake of red meat (about half an ounce or less a day).
For big fans of red meat, there are several ways you can eat healthier and still get your food of choice. Try adding meat in a smaller portion in salads and other vegetable-heavy dishes. You should also experiment with some slower cooking methods, such as:
(Quick Fact: Processed meats like bacon and hot dogs contain sodium nitrite, which can produce a carcinogen known as nitrosamine when digested.)
6) Eat More Fruits and Non-Starchy Vegetables
You’ll want to work some more fruits and non-starchy vegetables into your diet if you haven’t already. Non-starchy vegetables include:
- Dark leafy greens
- Bell peppers
- Green beans
These foods all seem to help fortify the digestive system against colorectal cancer— likely due to their high-fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidant contents. Additionally, garlic is another super cancer-fighting food worth adding to more of your meals.
While this may seem like an intimidating list of lifestyle changes, remember that many of these will go hand in hand. Improving your diet and exercising more often will help you manage your weight and improve your colon’s health at the same time. If you or a loved one is over the age of 50, Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month is a perfect time to consider scheduling a routine colon cancer screening test like a colonoscopy.