March is Colorectal Cancer awareness month. Colorectal cancer is a good topic for discussion, as it is one of the most common cancers in the U.S. and the second leading cause of cancer death. More importantly, did you know that colorectal cancer is largely preventable through screening and lifestyle choices?
Sometimes the colon produces an abnormal growth of tissue called a polyp. These can be precancerous and eventually transform into cancer. It is thought to take about 10 years for most polyps to grow into cancer. Therefore, if appropriate colorectal cancer screening is performed, most of these polyps can be removed before they turn into cancer, effectively preventing the development of colon cancer.
Traditionally, screening colonoscopies were recommended to start at age 50 because most colon cancers occurred in individuals over age 50. However, there has been a recent increase in colon cancer in younger individuals, particularly those in their 40s. Consequently, the American Cancer Society has changed its screening guidelines and now recommends starting colonoscopies at age 45.
It is not entirely clear why the rate of colorectal cancer is increasing in younger individuals, but it may be due to sedentary lifestyle, lack of exercise, obesity and diet.
Being overweight increases the risk of colorectal cancer (also other cancers and chronic diseases). Having more belly fat or a larger waist circumference also has been linked to colorectal cancer. Weight loss has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Regular, moderate physical activity can lower your risk of colon cancer and other diseases as well. Studies have found that people who exercise regularly have a 40-50 percent lower risk of colon cancer compared to those who do not exercise regularly.
Research continues to analyze the link between diet and colon cancer. There is overwhelming evidence that diet drives colon cancer risk. In fact, it is estimated that a healthy diet could prevent up to 70 to 90 percent of colorectal cancers. This would be a diet high in fruits, vegetables and fiber. Fiber, in fact, is incredibly important, and most people do not consume enough. Fiber can be found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains like brown rice. Red meats (beef, lamb, pork), processed meats (hot dogs, lunch meats, bacon) and processed foods increase our risk and should be limited.
Colorectal cancer is among the most common cancers in the U.S., but it does not have to be. Adopt lifestyle choices to reduce your risk, and if you are over the age of 45, get screened!
Dr. Tuli is a hematologist-oncologist practicing on the Mississippi Gulf Coast since 2007 and is currently with The Medical Oncology Group – Memorial Physician Clinics. She can be contacted at (228)-575-1234.