March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. And that’s fitting because colorectal cancer has been making headlines lately.
A study by the American Cancer Society, published just last month, found a sharp, unexplained increase in the colorectal incidence rate among younger people, compared to historic norms. Twentysomethings today have double the risk of developing colon cancer — and quadruple the risk of developing rectal cancer — that members of older American generations had at a comparable age.
Still, the overwhelming majority of new colorectal cancer diagnoses (90 percent) are received by people aged 50 and older. Annually, more than 14,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. That serves as an important reminder that middle-aged and senior adults should get regular screenings.
Today, we thought it might be a good idea to review seven steps seniors (and young people) can take to reduce their risk of developing colorectal cancers.
1. See your doctor and have regular colorectal cancer screenings
There are several standards of care for colorectal cancer screening. You should ask your doctor which method would be right for you.
If you’re 50 to 75, you should be screened for colorectal cancer regularly. Your doctor might recommend one of the following screening regimens:
- Colonoscopy, performed every 10 years (more frequently if you have a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors);
- High-sensitivity guaiac fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT), performed every year;
- Sigmoidoscopy, by itself every five years, or every 10 years with accompanying FOBT or FIT test every 3 years;
- Stool DNA test (FIT-DNA), every one to three years; or
- CT colonography (also known as a “virtual colonoscopy”), every five years.
Different physicians may recommend one or another regimen based on their clinical experience, your medical history, your risk factors and/or your financial considerations.
If you’re between 76 and 85, ask your doctor if you should be screened. He or she may elect not to have you undergo a colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy if there are concerns about your ability to withstand anesthesia.
2. Stay active
Regular exercise and healthy physical activity levels have been linked to reductions in risk for various cancers, colorectal cancers among them. Exercise will also help to keep you strong, limber and mentally active, and help you to keep trim.
3. Maintain a healthy weight
Speaking of, obesity is one of the primary risk factors for colorectal cancer. Rising obesity rates among Westerners may also be one of the underlying causes of the recent increase in colorectal cancer rates among the young, and follow-up studies are now examining the potential relationship between the two.
By limiting your caloric intake and maintaining a healthy weight, you could significantly reduce your risk for developing colorectal cancer.
4. Eat a high-fiber diet
Fiber is a bulking agent. It helps to keep your bowel movements regular and moves decaying food quickly through your digestive tract — in effect, it’s your colon’s scrub brush. High-fiber diets have been linked to reductions in colon cancer risk.
It’s also good for your heart. High-fiber diets can help seniors to lower their cholesterol and blood pressure, reducing the risk of heart attack or stroke. Eat plenty of leafy green veggies, cruciferous vegetables and fruits (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, apples) and unsweetened oatmeal to achieve the proper level of fiber intake.
5. Avoid red meat
The link between diets high in red meat intake (steaks, burgers, lamb chops) and colorectal cancer rates has been long known and well-established.
Be judicious about the number of times you indulge. If you do eat red meat, stick to leaner cuts and eat plenty of high-fiber vegetables. Avoid fatty sides like fries, mashed potatoes and “comfort foods.”
6. Drink in moderation
Alcohol abuse dramatically increases your risk of developing a wide variety of cancers, including colorectal cancer. The link is somewhat stronger in males, but it’s been observed in people of any gender.
Moreover, alcohol abuse drastically reduces your life expectancy. It’s linked strongly with heart disease, liver diseases, gastrointestinal bleeds, strokes, heart attacks, diabetes and other potentially life-threatening conditions.
7. Don’t use tobacco
Like alcohol use, tobacco use in all its forms — smoking, chewing or dipping — has long been known to raise one’s risk of developing various types of cancers, including colorectal cancer. If you use tobacco, talk to your doctor and get help quitting.
Follow the tips above to keep your digestive tract healthy and stay cancer-free!
This National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, be mindful of your risk factors. If you’re in the danger zone, take action to stay healthy. And remember, if you’re 50 years old or older, you should be having regular colorectal screenings.