Is bowel cancer preventable?
The World Cancer Research Fund and the American Institute for Cancer Research recently published its report on diet, nutrition, physical activity and colorectal cancer. It’s findings suggest that there are strong and probable links to colorectal cancer linked to our lifestyle choices. So can we avoid this devastating disease?
What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer covers any malignant (cancerous) tumour that grows anywhere along the large intestine, and includes the rectum, which is the storage chamber for faeces (poop) until we pass it into the toilet. As we get older, our chances of developing colorectal cancer increases and that is why UK adults from the ages of 50 are screened for bowel cancer every two years (depending upon which area of the UK you live).
What does the report say?
The report (3) has concluded from examining a large number of studies that there are various lifestyle changes that have strong, probable or limited evidence that helps us to keep our colon healthy and therefore less likely to develop cancer.
|Strong evidence||Good evidence||Some evidence|
|Decreases Risk||Physical activity||Eating whole grains||Eating foods high in vitamin C|
|Eating high fibre||Eating fish|
|Eating dairy products||Taking vitamin D supplements|
|Taking calcium supplements||Taking multivitamin supplements|
|Increases Risk||Eating processed meat||Eating red meat||Eating too few non-starchy vegetables|
|Drinking alcohol||Eating too little fruit|
|Having high body fat||Eating foods high in haem iron|
The report also suggests that being tall can also be a risk factor, simply because you have more cells that can go wrong, and that taller people have longer colons and therefore it simply increases the chances of disease.
So what can we take from this?
Simply put, adjusting our lifestyle could significantly improve our chances of living a life free of cancer and disease. It doesn’t necessarily 100% remove the risk, as there are other important factors at play that we cannot control, such as our genes, our height or whether we have been diagnosed with other medical conditions that could increase the risk of cancer (such as inflammatory bowel disease).
However, adopting the following will certainly help:
- Ensure we increase our activity (take the stairs, walk more, get a bike)
- Increase the range of fruit and vegetables we eat
- Reduce refined grains and as often as possible, swap for whole grains
- Cut sausages, burgers, hams, bacon and other processed meats to perhaps twice per week or even less
- Have red meat now and then, maybe once per week or twice per month
- Increase consumption of fish and low fat dairy
- Moderate alcohol consumption, and avoid binge drinking
- Take a vitamin D supplement during the winter unless you work outdoors or spend a lot of time outdoors
- Limit calorie intake so that body fat can stay within a healthy range
This blog post is intended as an interesting and informative read for anyone with a general interest in health and nutrition. It is not intended to give any form of medical advice or opinion. If you suffer from any of the mentioned symptoms, you should seek the opinion of a medically trained professional and not rely on the contents of this post. I’m a nutritionist guys, not a dietitian or a medical doctor.
Seb is a writer and blogger of food and nutrition. He holds a bachelors and a masters degree in nutrition science, and has studied sports and exercise nutrition at postgraduate level. He specialises in plant-based nutrition and believes passionately that we can all live with a little less meat.