March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, the third most common type of cancer among newly diagnosed male and female cancer patients in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society
, there will be over 145,000 new cases of colorectal cancer this year, with more than 51,000 deaths.
About 1 in 20 Americans will develop colon or rectal cancer at some point during their lifetime. Though there is currently no cure for colorectal cancer, the disease is 90 percent treatable if it is caught early with a cancer screening. In spite of this, recent research has confirmed
that more and more young people are dying of colorectal cancer; 10 percent of new patients are under the age of 50, when the disease can often be misdiagnosed.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help lower your colorectal cancer risk. Here are five ways to help protect your colorectal health:
Schedule a colorectal cancer screening with your health care provider.
Colorectal cancer screenings are tests that can identify cancer before symptoms appear by searching for polyps that can be safely removed before they become cancerous. Early identification of colon or rectal cancer plays a key role in fighting the disease, since treatments are likelier to be successful. The American Cancer Society recommends colorectal screening
beginning at age 45 for people with average risk, or even earlier for those with a family history of colorectal cancer, those who have had precancerous polyps in the past, or those with ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease or type 2 diabetes. Talk with your doctor about your individual risk factors, and when you should start getting screened.
Fortify your diet with vegetables, fruit and whole grains.
Diets with a high proportion of vegetables, fruit and whole grains have been associated with a decreased risk of colon or rectal cancer
, with an increased risk linked to diets high in red meat or processed meats.
Less physically active patients have an increased risk of developing colon or rectal cancer. Research has demonstrated
that an increase in physical activity, either in frequency, duration or intensity, can reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer by 30 to 40 percent. People who are overweight or obese are also likelier to develop colon polyps, a possible precursor to cancer, and higher weights are associated with higher polyp risk.
Ask your doctor if a low-dosage aspirin or ibuprofen regimen is right for you. Research is underway
to determine if some over-the-counter medicines, vitamins and supplements can play a role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and colorectal disease for some patients, depending on age and risk factors.
Don’t smoke, and limit your use of alcohol.
Long-term smokers are more likely to develop and die from colorectal cancer. The longer a patient smokes, the more risk increases, so if you smoke cigarettes, stop. Alcohol consumption has also been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer; according to the National Cancer Institute
, people who regularly drink 3.5 drinks per day have 1.5 times the risk of developing colorectal cancer as nondrinkers or occasional drinkers. The American Cancer Society recommends
no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. A single drink amounts to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1 1/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor). If you do choose to drink, try to limit your consumption.