March is colon cancer awareness month. Colon cancer is the fourth most common cancer worldwide. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2023, over 1510,020 people will be diagnosed with Colon cancer in the United States. Women’s lifetime risk of colon cancer is 1 in 25 (4%).
Cancer screening starting at age 45 years of age is now recommended because more and more younger people are getting diagnosed.
There is a subset of colon cancers caused by genetics. However, lifestyle factors play a significant role in increasing the risk for colon cancer.
Your diet could put you at an increased risk of colon cancer.
Current data suggest that the standard American diet low in fiber and high in processed food, including meat, may increase colon cancer risk. 12% of colon cancer can be attributed to this kind of diet. Reducing meat intake, particularly charred meat (think barbecued meat), and increasing fiber intake helps improve colon health.
Physical inactivity is associated with increased cancer risk.
You may have heard the new adage, “sitting is the new smoking.” This is because a sedentary lifestyle has been found to increase the risk of several hormone-associated cancers. These include breast, endometrial, colon, colorectal, and ovarian cancer.
The average American sits for about 7 hours per day. Sitting, also known as sedentarism, sets up a cascade of hormonal and metabolic effects in the body. To reduce long hours of sitting, set an alert to get up and move around for a minute every hour. You can decrease your risk more if you commit to regular physical activity.
Type 2 diabetes increases the risk of colon cancer.
According to a published study, type 2 diabetes may increase the risk of several cancers, including liver, pancreas, colorectal, endometrial, bladder, kidney, breast, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disease and affects several body systems, not just blood sugars.
Alcohol consumption increases the risk of colon cancer.
Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. Current dietary guidelines by the US Surgeon General recommend limiting alcohol intake to less than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. Heavy drinking is having four or more drinks on any day or eight or more drinks for women. For men, heavy alcohol consumption is five or more drinks or more than 15 drinks per week.
Smoking could increase your risk of Colon Cancer.
Many studies have reported a 20% to 60% increase in the risk of colorectal cancer associated with active smoking. However, neither the U.S. Surgeon General nor the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified a definite relationship between smoking and increased colon cancer risk. Despite this, and because smoking is unhealthy overall, quit smoking to reduce your risk.
Some things you can do to reduce your risk of developing colon cancer
Know your family history.
I cannot over-emphasize that you must know your family history to maintain your health. Have an honest conversation with your immediate family members, such as your parents and siblings, about their health issues. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you have an 8% risk of developing colon cancer.
Here’s an example of how knowing your family history could allow you to make some changes:
- Schedule a colonoscopy earlier than 45 years old. You need to start getting screened ten years earlier than the age at first diagnosis of a family member. For instance, if your mother was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 43, then you should start getting screened at age 33.
- Make changes to your diet by increasing fiber, eating less processed foods, and reducing red meat intake.
- Start a consistent exercise routine.
- Do not smoke
- Do not drink excessive alcohol.
Schedule regular colon screenings.
First, it’s essential to understand that screening for any disease does not prevent it. Screening helps detect early pre-cancerous or cancerous lesions. Second, many people balk at the thought of doing bowel preparation for a colon screening. However, depending on your risk, there are other ways to screen for colon cancer. Noninvasive screenings include stool for occult blood testing and immunochemical stool testing.
However, high-risk individuals may need to begin screening sooner than 45 and with invasive testing such as a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. So who’s considered high-risk?
- If you have a family history of colon cancer.
- If you have a family member who was diagnosed with adenomatous polyps.
- If you have a history of inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), you have a childhood history of cancer that required radiation to the abdomen.
So let’s become aware. Spread the word about colon cancer screening and prevention, and let’s cut down on colon cancer deaths.