A friend’s relative recently was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. “Cancer” is a scary word at the best of times, but when it comes to colorectal cancer, the word can be downright terrifying. It’s the second-leading cancer killer; the Cancer Statistics Center estimates approximately 4,750 new cases will be diagnosed daily in 2018, and 1,670 people will die of colorectal cancer each day this year.
The good news is colorectal cancer is highly preventable. Regular screenings mean polyps, which can turn malignant, can be caught before they turn cancerous or early enough that the cancer is more easily treated (American Cancer Society).
But screening isn’t the only way we can prevent colorectal cancer. Taking care of ourselves is one of the best defenses against this common disease. While no regimen is a guarantee of avoiding cancer, it increases our likelihood of staying healthy. Here are some tips to help keep you in tip-top shape:
1. Eat right.
You saw this one coming, right? Turns out, the old adage “you are what you eat” is actually pretty accurate. Diets high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and beans are great for colon health. Less helpful, even damaging, are diets high in fat, that feature lots of processed food and include too much red meat. That’s a tough thing to hear in cattle country, but make sure to mix up your tri-tip with chicken, pork, or fish to help keep cancer at bay (Cleveland Clinic).
2. Watch your weight.
Obesity plays a role in many types of health problems, including colorectal cancer. Obese people are about 30 percent more likely to get colorectal cancer than people of normal weight, and a higher body mass index (BMI) is associated with higher risks of both colon and rectal cancer. The risk is higher in men than women (National Cancer Institute).
BMI is used to calculate obesity. A healthy range for an adult is a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9. Overweight is a range of 25.0 to 29.9, and obesity ranges from a BMI of 30.0 to 39.9. Severely obese BMIs are those 40.0 or higher (National Cancer Institute).
The most accurate way to test your BMI is through your primary care provider, but there are online tools that will calculate BMI based on your height and weight.
3. Sweat it out.
It’s no surprise that if obesity plays a factor in colorectal cancer, so does physical activity. A 2009 analysis of more than 50 studies showed that people who were the most physically active reduced their risk of colorectal cancer by 24 percent over people who were not particularly active (National Cancer Institute).
The great thing about physical activity is that it doesn’t have to be complicated. Go for a walk or, if you have a bicycle, a ride. Clean the house. Dance in the kitchen. Park as far from the office as you can, or just start walking to work. Swap out those boring meetings where everyone struggles to stay awake for walking meetings. Join a yoga class. Just get moving, and reduce your risk of cancer, obesity, and a host of other troubles.
4. Don’t drown your sorrows.
Alcohol has been linked to higher instances of several types of cancer, including colorectal. The risk is higher in men than women (American Cancer Society), but ladies, don’t let that be an excuse to overindulge.
How alcohol increases cancer risk isn’t entirely clear, because it can affect the body in a variety of ways. In the colon and rectum, bacteria can convert alcohol into acetaldehyde, which has been shown to cause cancer in rats (American Cancer Society). It can help other harmful chemicals, including from tobacco smoke, enter your system. Alcohol can block your body’s ability to absorb folate and other nutrients. It also can affect your waistline and contribute to obesity.
So how much is too much? That’s a difficult question to answer, as several factors, including age, weight, and gender, play a role. Moderate drinking is defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks per day for men (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). This is the maximum amount allowed in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, but the guidelines do recommend if you’re not a drinker, don’t start.
5. It’s time to quit.
If you need one more reason to stop smoking, consider this: It increases your risk of colorectal cancer. While early studies on the subject dismissed the link between smoking and colorectal cancer, more recent studies are finding evidence the two are linked. One hypothesis is that the carcinogens in cigarette smoke might cause tumors in the colon and rectum. This happens over time — perhaps as long as 40 years — so longtime smokers are most at risk (Journal of the National Cancer Institute).
Again, there is no guarantee you will avoid cancer, but living a healthy, active, Outback Strong lifestyle can play a powerful preventive role. Find out more about how you can live Outback Strong — and whether you're due for colorectal cancer screening — by contacting your primary care provider.