Colon cancer is the 3rd most common cancer in the US and it’s the 4th most common in the UK.
So, being so high up in the cancer leader board means taking steps to reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer can only be a good thing.
In this article you are going to get 7 ways to lower your colon cancer risk.
Is colon cancer preventable?
The answer to that question is; yes it is. Colon cancer is preventable. In fact, of all the cancers that afflict the human race, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers out there.
The reason colon cancer is quite preventable is because of the nature of its beginnings.
Most colon cancers usually start of as little growths (what we call polyps) on the inner lining of the large bowel (colon).
And that’s a good thing because if you catch the growth early enough, you can prevent the polyp from becoming cancerous.
So, how can I prevent colon cancer or colorectal cancer?
I will give you 7 steps you can employ to reduce your risk of developing colon cancer. And the good news is that the steps are not that hard.
The measures to reduce colorectal cancer risks are simple strategies. It just takes a little effort and dedication on your part.
Colon cancer prevention strategy #1
Screening – By far the best thing you can do to prevent colorectal cancer is screening.
You need to submit yourself to the screening available in your locality.
Screening for colorectal cancer comes in 2 forms:
By invasiveness we mean the degree to which a test intrudes your biological being.
How a test invades your physical body. Any test that requires medical instruments being inserted inside your body in one form or another is an invasive test.
On the other hand any test where the diagnostic instrument does not involve insertion of a medical instrument is a non-invasive test.
So, submitting urine for testing, for instance, is non-invasive because you simply pee into a pot and you hand it over to the Nurse and your test is processed.
But if you have to undergo say, laparoscopy (key hole investigative operation), that is an invasive test because an instrument is being inserted into your body cavity.
Anyway back to the screening tests for colon cancer.
Non-invasive colon cancer screening tests:
1. Stool test – simply submit your stool for lab testing. If it is negative for occult blood, you are fine. If it is positive, further testing will be required.
2. Virtual Colonography – also called CT Colonoscopy. This is a simple test where you have a CT scan of your colon and any polyps seen will require further investigation. It is very important that your bowel is well prepared for this test to avoid false positives. This means your bowel must be thoroughly cleansed prior to the procedure being undertaken.
Invasive colon cancer screening tests:
When any of the non-invasive tests are performed and are positive, this will usually lead to invasive testing.
I refer to the non-invasive tests as testing for further testing. A positive non-invasive test should trigger further testing by invasive test.
What are the invasive screening tests for colon cancer?
Flexible Sigmoidoscopy – a flexible instrument called sigmoidoscope is inserted into your lower bowel through the anus and that area up to the upper part of the lower colon is thoroughly inspected.
If any polyps are seen, they are resected.
Colonoscopy – this is similar to the flexible sigmoidoscopy but in colonoscopy, the entire colon is inspected from the anus to the earlier part of the large bowel (colon).
See video below on this page for description.
As usual, any polyps seen during the inspection are resected. Any resected polyp is sent to the lab for testing to exclude cancer in the lesion.
Why do I say screening is the best thing you can do to prevent colon cancer?
It is because cancers of the colon start off as small polyps and they are usually benign at the beginning. They gradually turn cancerous over time.
However, the progression from benign to cancer is not immediate. There is a progression scale. And this is from benign to precancerous before becoming cancerous.
So, to prevent colon cancer is to catch them at the stage before they become cancerous. Because once you resect the polyps at that stage, they stand no chance of becoming cancerous.
You have resected a potentially cancerous polyp. End of story.
Catching them early is key to survival.
And the only way to catch them early is to screen early. Opinion is divided as to what age screening should start.
Some countries start screening at the age of 55. Some others 50.
The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening from 50 up to age 75. Beyond 75, that would have to be a decision between your doctor and yourself.
In the UK, the screening age appears to be 55 according to the NHS website.
However I know one or two people who are 55 and over and are yet to be invited for colon cancer screening test in the UK. There’s probably some sort of Post Code lottery involved.
Will it be more beneficial to screen people for bowel cancer before their 50th birthday?
Yes, there’s certainly an argument for that. This study from Austria seems to suggest that bringing the screening age down to 40 is a good idea, at least for men anyway.
Because the ‘Number Needed to Screen’ and detect Advanced Adenomas (precancerous changes) among men aged 40 to 49 years was similar to that of women aged 50 to 59 years.
So, bringing down the screening age for men to 40 was beneficial. It remains for the Health Authorities to listen and pay attention to this important finding in the study involving 44,350 participants.
Are you beginning to see the importance of screening in whatever form as being the best colorectal cancer preventative strategy out there?
Colon cancer prevention strategy #2
Use of daily low-dose Aspirin.
Aspirin is a blood thinning agent. It is usually prescribed as a daily pill to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Some studies suggest that in individuals who are at risk of cardiovascular disease, using a low-dose aspirin daily reduces their risk of developing colorectal cancer.
However, not everyone qualifies for this. The age group 50 – 59 are best suited for the use of aspirin for prevention of colon cancer.
This is the age group that the US Preventive Services Task Force feels the benefits of taking daily low-dose aspirin (also called baby aspirin) outweighs the risk.
Users of daily dose aspirin for colon cancer must however commit to taking it daily and for 10 continuous years to see the benefits.
Some research like this one suggests that aspirin use prevents cancer more in the proximal colon (the earlier part of the colon) than the later part which is the rectal area.
The importance of aspirin use in colo-rectal cancer prevention goes beyond primary prevention.
Aspirin is also useful for secondary prevention of colorectal cancer. This research concludes that regular daily aspirin use is associated with lower risk of recurrence of the cancer and a lower risk of dying from the cancer.
Have a conversation with your doctor to see if you’ll be a suitable candidate for daily aspirin use.
Colon Cancer prevention strategy #3
Eat a high fiber diet
Fiber is generally good for your health and that includes prevention of colorectal cancer. Having a high fiber diet prevents constipation. Moving your bowel regularly is a cleansing action in itself.
Nitrosamines are carcinogenic. The longer toxins like nitrosamines hang around your large bowel in particular, the distal part of the large bowel (colon) the higher the likelihood of harm.
So, getting rid of toxins in your stool regularly will potentially prevent nitrosamines and other toxins from inducing cell changes that can lead to polyps and cancers later on.
One way to do achieve regular bowel movement is by eating a high fiber diet. This study supports the view that a high fiber diet reduces the incidence of colorectal cancer in the later part of the bowel.
Colon cancer prevention strategy #4
Avoiding processed meat and red meat
If you cannot avoid processed meat and red neat, you should at least reduce your consumption of both. Processed meat in particular is usually impregnated with nitrates to preserve the meat and to enhance their flavour.
The nitrates in the processed meat get converted to Nitroso-N-compounds with nitrosamines being the most common.
In the presence of the heme factor in processed meats like salami, bacon, chorizos, sausages, hot dogs etc and red meat too, there’s an upregulation of the nitrosamines produced from these animal products.
The net result is an avalanche of nitrosamines in the colon. This is potentially carcinogenic.
Best avoided. If you can’t, you must reduce your consumption of processed or red meat to less than 50 gm per day or at worst 70 gm per day
Harm is more likely if you exceed that threshold.
Colon cancer prevention strategy #5
Is there any cancer that tobacco has not been implicated in?
This is just sensible advice. Tobacco does you no good and using tobacco does not certainly do you any good in colon cancer prevention. Avoid!
Colon cancer prevention strategy #6
Limit consumption of alcohol
I know you love your drink. Excessive alcohol consumption is bad news all round.
How about you limit your drinking to less than moderate levels.
Doing so will reduce or lower your colon cancer risk amongst other benefits.
Going teetotal is even better.
Colon cancer prevention strategy #7
The concept of doing 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week is one way of reducing your colorectal cancer risk.
Or doing 75 minutes of vigorous exercise.
Either way you’ll be doing your health a whole bunch of good including reducing your risk of colon cancer.
If anything, regular exercise will keep your weight in check. Lean body mass will be preserved. Excess body fat is a cancer risk all round.
Hopefully you got some benefit from reading this piece.
Leave your comments below if you can. Remember to get yourself screened. The best thing you can do to help yourself prevent colorectal cancer.