Talking about your gastrointestinal system and bowel issues may not be the most comfortable discussion to have with your doctor, but it’s an important one, especially if you’re 50 years of age or older. It’s recommended that you start routinely screening for colorectal (colon) cancer, cancer of the colon or rectum, at 50 to help detect any abnormalities before they turn into cancer.
Lifestyle Factors to Prevent
In addition to regular, early screening, you can also take steps to prevent colorectal cancer by adopting a healthy lifestyle and diet. Considerable research on lifestyle and dietary factors have linked obesity, lack of physical activity, and diet, specifically those high in alcohol, red and processed meats, refined grains, and saturated fats, with an increased risk of developing colon cancer. In fact, some researchers have estimated that 70 percent of all colon cancers are preventable by moderate diet and lifestyle changes [i][ii][iii].
A healthy diet can even help your prognosis post-diagnosis. A large observational study found that a greater intake of a Western dietary pattern, characterized by a lot of red and processed meats, fats, refined grains, and sweets, was significantly associated with colon cancer recurrence or death among patients with treated stage III colon cancer [iv]. Yet a prudent dietary pattern, one with a lot of fruits, vegetables, poultry, and fish, was not associated with these adverse outcomes. Other research has suggested that a higher BMI, little physical activity, a higher dietary glycemic load, and greater total carbohydrate intake may be linked to colon cancer recurrence and mortality, but the evidence is still limited [v][vii].
Take the first step towards protecting your health by making an appointment with your doctor to discuss any unusual changes in your bowel habits. And if you’re over 50, be sure to ask your doctor about a screening test for colorectal cancer. While you’re at it, encourage someone you love to do the same by sending them an e-card from the CDC reminding them to get screened.