Despite advances in diagnosis and treatments, colorectal cancer is still one of the most frequently diagnosed types of cancer. While incidence is decreasing for the most commonly diagnosed age group population, ages 65-74, the rate is increasing for young and middle-aged adults. According to the American Cancer Society, those born around 1990 actually have double the risk of developing colon cancer, and quadruple the risk of developing rectal cancer in comparison to those born around 1950. Clearly, more work needs to be done.
While statistics may feel frightening, there is hope. Evidence is mounting with what can be done to prevent colorectal cancer, even in higher risk populations. While it may seem redundant, as the prevention to many conditions remain similar, this is even more of a reason to practice healthy lifestyle habits.
The first step is recognition. Become aware of your body and know what is normal, and what might need to be investigated further. Knowledge is always power. Especially at the beginning, symptoms of colorectal cancer may be vague, which emphasizes the importance of knowing what’s normal. Abdominal pain, change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, fatigue, and unintentional weight loss may all be signs.
With advances in technology, our society has become more sedentary, which is likely a factor in why younger people are increasingly developing colon cancer as sedentary lifestyles have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. The solution is simple – get up and move. Set an alarm, get a smart watch, get a dog (bonus – dogs improve mood and decrease risks of heart disease), take the stairs, park further away, dance, walk during your lunchtime, every little bit of movement counts. Find movement you enjoy, and stick with it.
Studies showing increased risk of colorectal cancer for Americans are based largely off of those consuming the Standard American Diet, with meat as a staple. To prevent colorectal cancer, eat more plants. Vegetarian and pescovegatarians (vegetarians who also consume fish) have a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer in their lifetime. Red meat, especially when cooked at a high temperature is especially suspect, and should be avoided. Alcohol can also increase your risk for developing colorectal cancer.
Focus on healthier eating by incorporating more plants including vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, and drink green tea. Increased consumption of beans alone can cut precancerous colorectal polyp recurrence by 65%. Green tea is considered protective, and may also prevent recurrent polyps. Vegetables and fruits are the preferred foods of healthy gut bacteria, otherwise known as probiotics, which can also protect your colon.
Another concerning potential contributor to colorectal cancer is the increase in environmental toxins. Studies are suggesting that increased exposure to polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) pollution, organochlorine pesticides, and asbestos and others can all be adding fuel to the fire. Know your surroundings, and prevent exposure when possible.
Assess and address metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by excess abdominal fat, elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, and glucose levels. In vitro studies show these characteristics put you at an increased risk for the development of cancer in general. The fight against metabolic syndrome means more plants, and more movement, among other strategies. Your efforts against one condition double as protection against others, as well.
Turmeric has gained popularity in the United States and has historically been a principle spice in Indian cuisine. Men and women in India have significantly lower risks of developing colorectal cancer, as well as many other cancers. While many focus on turmeric as a supplement, the use of the herb in food preparation is beneficial, and easy to do. As with everything else, quality is imperative.
Although the news of increased risk of colorectal cancer for the younger population is disappointing and may feel daunting, the time to act is now. Use food and lifestyle in your favor and arm your body with the tools to stay healthy. Be aware of your genetic risk of developing colorectal cancer, let your doctor know of any new gastrointestinal symptoms, and get your colonoscopies according to guidelines.
Heather Auld, M.D., FACOG, ABOIM
Teresa Spano, ND, CNS
Renee Sarra, A.P., D.O.M.
Doctor of Oriental Medicine
Lynn Snyder, CMA
Lifestyle Coach, Reiki Master
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