Colon cancer is the third most common form of cancer in the United States, accounting for more than 50,000 deaths this year, according to the American Cancer Society. It affects both men and women, although it is slightly more common in men.
Some risk factors for colon cancer are uncontrollable, like heredity and age - your risk increases as you grow older. However, you do have some control over these four primary risk factors for colon cancer. Learn how to overcome these risks.
Obesity increases your risk of colon cancer by about 30 percent. The effect is more pronounced in men than in women. If you are carrying around a few extra pounds, you're not alone. Studies conducted in 2011 through 2014 found that about 70 percent of U.S. adults were overweight or obese. This explains, at least in part, why colon cancer is so common.
You can lose weight and reduce your risk of colon cancer and of other obesity-related illnesses like cardiovascular disease.
If you have tried to lose weight in the past and were unsuccessful, consider a physician-supervised weight loss program. A team of professionals can customize a diet program to meet your needs and can help you handle cravings and habits that may have sabotaged your past efforts.
Smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products introduces countless carcinogens to your body, and many of these are eliminated via your colon. Thus, smoking increases your risk of colon cancer. If diagnosed, smokers are also more likely to die from colon cancer than nonsmokers.
In terms of cancer risk, the sooner you quit smoking, the better. Some people find success with group therapy programs, nicotine patches, or hypnotherapy. Here are a few tips to help you quit, regardless of your approach:
- Do not skip meals while you attempt to quit. Low blood sugar levels can make nicotine cravings worse.
- Drink plenty of acidic fruit juice during your first three days without nicotine. It helps stabilize your blood sugar and remove nicotine from your bloodstream.
- Celebrate each day without smoking with a small treat.
If you relapse, don't give up. Start again the next day, and keep pushing forward.
3. High Meat Consumption
According to a study by Harvard Medical School, too much red meat or processed meat can increase your risk of colon cancer by 20 percent or more.
Researchers surmise that the N-nitroso compounds, or NOCs, found in red and processed meat, are carcinogenic and therefore responsible for the increased cancer risk. Charred red meat is even worse since the char contains additional carcinogens.
You don't have to go vegetarian to mitigate your risk of colon cancer, but you should consciously limit your red meat consumption. Eat no more than two 4-ounce portions of red meat each week, and choose lean cuts. Stay away from processed meats, like hot dogs and cold cuts, as much as possible.
4. Drinking Alcohol
Heavy drinkers have a 50 percent increased risk of colon cancer compared to nondrinkers, and moderate drinkers have a 20 percent increased risk.
Before you assume you're not at risk, consider that many people drink more than they realize. Moderate drinkers consume just one to four drinks per day. Heavy drinkers consume four or more drinks. A five-ounce glass of wine, one and a half ounces of liquor, and a 12-ounce beer each count as a single drink.
More research needs to be done to determine how, exactly, reducing alcohol intake will impact your cancer risk. However, a good start is to drink less. If you do still indulge on occasion, choose red wine as it has a lower alcohol content than liquor and may have certain anti-cancer properties when consumed in small quantities.
You can't change your age or your genes, but you can change your risk for colon cancer by focusing on the risk factors above. Remember, you should also have regular colonoscopies to ensure that if you do develop colon cancer, your doctor detects it as soon as possible. Contact Colon & Rectal Surgery Associates, P.A., to schedule an appointment.