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Colorectal Cancer Awareness

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].


To Do

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.



[i] March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention. Accessed March 14, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/dcpc/resources/features/ColorectalAwareness/
[ii] What are the key statistics about colon cancer? American Cancer Society. Accessed March 14, 2014. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/colonandrectumcancer/detailedguide/colorectal-cancer-key-statistics
[iii] Giovannucci, E. (2002). Modifiable risk factors for colon cancer. Gastroenterol Clin North Am, 31(4):925-43.
[iv] Meyerhardt, J.A., Niedzwiecki, D., Hollis, D., et al. (2007). Association of dietary patterns with cancer recurrence and survival in patients with stage III colon cancer. JAMA, 298(7):754:764.
[v] Meyerhardt, J.A., Sato, K., Niedzwiecki, D., et al. (2012). Dietary glycemic load and cancer recurrence and survival in patients with stage III colon cancer: findings from CALGB 89803. J Natl Cancer Inst.,104(22):1702-1711.
[vi] Platz, E.A., Willett, W.C., Colditz, G.A., Rimm, E.B., Spiegelman, D., Giovannucci, E. (2000). Proportion of colon cancer risk that might be preventable in a cohort of middle-aged US men. Cancer Causes & Control, 11(7):579-88.
[vii] Vrieling, A., and Kampan, E. (2010). The role of body mass index, physical activity, and diet in colorectal cancer recurrence and survival: a review of the literature. Am J Clin Nutr., 92(3):471-490.
Caryn Huneke

Caryn Huneke is completing her dietetic internship and MS degree in Nutrition Education at Teachers College, Columbia University to become a Registered Dietitian.

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