- There is no such thing as a cancer prevention diet, but some foods can lower your risk of developing colon or rectal cancer.
- Diets high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked to a lower risk of colon or rectal cancer, whereas red and processed meat consumption has been linked to an increased risk of the disease.
- Regular colonoscopies are an effective method of screening, preventing, and treating colorectal cancer. A colonoscopy allows a gastroenterologist or colonoscopist to identify and remove polyps before they become cancerous. Ask your doctor when and how often should you get your colorectal cancer screening done.
- Colon cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death in the United States.
Diet: what to avoid and what to eat
- Red meat has been linked to an increased risk of colon or rectal cancer in studies. This is particularly true for processed meat, which is meat that has been preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or adding chemical preservatives.
- Bacon, ham, sausage, and hot dogs are examples of processed meat.
- Each week, you should limit yourself to no more than three servings of red or processed meat.
Colorful fruits and vegetables
- Natural substances in fruits and vegetables may inhibit the growth of cancer cells or combat the inflammation that can fuel cancer.
- To reduce your risk of cancer, you should consume at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.
- Broccoli, cabbage, and vitamin C-rich fruits, such as oranges, are some of your best bets.
- Fatty fish, such as salmon, are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial to heart health and may slow cancer cell growth.
- However, it is unclear whether eating fish can help prevent colon or rectal cancer. According to some studies, people who ate fish instead of red meat were less likely to get the disease.
- However, you should limit having swordfish, tuna, tilefish, shark, and king mackerel. They may contain mercury and other pollutants that can harm your health in the long run.
- Higher levels of dietary calcium from supplements and, in particular, milk has been linked to a lower risk of colon or rectal cancer.
- Vitamin D, which is found in dairy products, may help prevent colon cancer.
- Calcium and vitamin D supplements may be beneficial if you dislike or are unable to consume dairy.
- In recent years, several large studies have suggested that fiber consumption, particularly from whole grains, may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Whole grains are high in magnesium and fiber, which help keep your stools moving.
- Regular bowel movements have been shown to get rid of cancer-causing compounds in the colon.
- Aim for 90 grams of whole grains per day. Whole grain options include oatmeal, whole wheat bread, and brown rice.
- Beans and legumes, such as soybeans, peas, and lentils, are high in fiber, protein, and vitamins B and E.
- They contain flavonoids, which can prevent tumor growth, and antioxidants, which may help protect you from the colon or rectal cancer.
Making healthy food choices may help you reduce your risk of developing colon cancer or polyps, even if you have a strong family history of the disease.
Lifestyle choices: healthy modifications
Besides eating a healthy diet, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing colon or rectal cancer.
- Exercise regularly. If you are not physically active, you may be more likely to develop colon or rectal cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity and being overweight increase the chances of developing colon or rectal cancer.
- Stop smoking. Long-term smokers are more likely to develop and die from colorectal cancer than nonsmokers.
- Consume alcohol in moderation. Alcohol consumption has been linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Some of these lifestyle habits may be difficult to change. However, making the necessary changes is worthwhile.
How is colorectal cancer screening done?
Here is how colorectal cancer screening is done:
- Colonoscopy is a simple procedure that allows doctors to visually examine the bowel lining to detect and remove precancerous polyps.
- Your colon cancer screening interval is determined by your risk for the disease.
- The American Cancer Society recommends that an initial screening be scheduled at the age of 45 years.
- Colorectal cancer is preventable because it begins as polyps and takes years to develop and become cancerous. If detected early, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent.
- If either your mother, father, brother, or sister has had colorectal cancer, consult your doctor about when to begin screening and which tests may be appropriate for you.
- Colonoscopy is a safe procedure with a low risk of complications that should be performed one time every 10 years beginning at the age of 45 years.
- With recent advances in colonoscopy, even polyps larger than 2 cm in diameter can be safely removed via colonoscopy.
What is colon cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a term used to describe cancers of the colon and rectum.
- Colorectal cancers develop when the cells of the colon or rectum divide uncontrollably.
- The vast majority of colorectal cancers begin as polyps, which are small overgrowths of tissue in the colon lining.
- Most polyps are benign (noncancerous), but some can become cancerous if they grow out of control.
- In the early stages, these polyps may not cause any symptoms.
More symptoms may appear as the disease progresses.
10 symptoms of colorectal cancer
- Diarrhea or constipation that does not go away
- Change in bowel habits, such as size, shape, and frequency of stools
- Discomfort or urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need
- Abdominal pain or cramping pain in the lower abdomen
- Bloating or full feeling
- Change in appetite
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool or toilet after a bowel movement
- Excessive fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
The polyp may metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body in the later stages of colon cancer. Depending on where cancer has spread, this can result in additional symptoms.
Apart from lifestyle choices, colorectal cancer risk factors include:
- Colorectal cancer is most common in people aged 65 to 74 years.
- Among all racial groups in the United States, African Americans have the highest rate of colon cancer.
- A history of colon cancer, rectal cancer, or polyps in the family may be a risk factor for colorectal cancer.
- Patients having inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease or chronic ulcerative colitis, are at increased risk of colorectal cancer.
- Some genetic mutations can be passed down through families and increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
Colorectal cancer screening should be a regular and ongoing conversation between you and your doctors. These are simple steps you can take to lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
What are the treatment options for colon cancer?
Treatment of colon cancer usually depends on the stage of cancer.
- Stage 0: Early-stage cancer is present in the intestine's innermost layer.
- Stage I: Cancer has spread to the colon's inner layers.
- Stage II: Cancer has spread through the colon's muscle wall.
- Stage III: Cancer has progressed to the lymph nodes.
- Stage IV: Cancer has spread to other organs outside the colon.
Treatment options may include:
- Colonoscopy can be used to remove a tumor in stage 0 colon cancer.
- More extensive surgery is required to remove the cancerous portion of the colon in stages I, II, and III cancer. This procedure is called colon resection (colectomy).
- After surgery, almost all patients with stage III colon cancer receive chemotherapy for three to six months. This is referred to as adjuvant chemotherapy.
- Even though the tumor has been removed, chemotherapy is administered to treat any cancer cells that may have survived.
- Chemotherapy is used to treat stage IV colon cancer symptoms and extend survival.
- Patients may be given a single type of medication or a combination of medications.
- Radiation therapy is sometimes used to kill colon cancer cells.
- Targeted therapy focuses on specific targets (molecules) found in cancer cells. These targets influence how cancer cells grow and survive.
- Using these targets, the drug disables cancer cells, preventing them from spreading. Targeted therapy can be administered orally or intravenously.
- You may receive targeted therapy in addition to surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
For people with stage IV disease that has spread to the liver, treatment may include:
- Burning cancer (ablation)
- Administering chemotherapy or radiation directly into the liver
- Freezing cancer (cryotherapy)
Understanding colorectal cancer risks, increasing screening rates and making lifestyle changes can save many lives.
If you have symptoms, such as persistent abdominal pain, rectal bleeding, increasing constipation, unexplained weight loss, or a sudden change in bowel habit, consult your doctor to see if you are a candidate for a colonoscopy screening.
Early detection and removal of colon polyps before they become cancerous is the only proven method of preventing colorectal cancer.
Siteman Cancer Center. 8 Ways to Prevent Colon Cancer. https://siteman.wustl.edu/prevention/take-proactive-control/8-ways-to-prevent-colon-cancer/
American Cancer Society. Can Colorectal Cancer Be Prevented? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html
National Cancer Institute. Colorectal Cancer Prevention (PDQ®)–Patient Version. https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/patient/colorectal-prevention-pdq
Prevent Cancer Foundation. Colorectal cancer. https://www.preventcancer.org/education/preventable-cancers/colorectal-cancer/
Chan AT, Giovannucci EL. Primary prevention of colorectal cancer. Gastroenterology. 2010;138(6):2029-2043.e10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2947820/
Healthline. 6 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Colon Cancer. https://www.healthline.com/health/colorectal-cancer/colon-cancer-prevention
Kaufman P. 7 Ways to Prevent Colon Cancer. Everyday Health. https://www.everydayhealth.com/colon-cancer/prevention/
Myers D. Top Colon Cancer Prevention Tips. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/top-colon-cancer-prevention-tips-796646
Cohut M. Colorectal cancer: The importance of diet. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321171
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