Colorectcal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both the United States and Canada. So say the American Cancer Society and the Canadian Cancer Society, who project nearly 60,000 Americans and Canadians will lose their lives to colorectal cancer in 2014 alone.
Though many risk factors for colorectal cancer, including age, heredity and racial and ethnic background, are beyond an individual's control, that does not mean people are helpless to reduce their risk for this potentially deadly disease. Maintaining or adopting a healthy lifestyle can reduce a person's risk of developing various cancers, and colorectal cancer is no exception. The following are a few ways adults can reduce their chance of developing colorectal cancer.
* Get screened. As is the case with many cancer treatments, colorectal cancer treatments are much more effective when cancer is detected and treated early. Colorectal cancer screenings help find polyps before they become cancerous. In addition, people may not immediately associate symptoms of colorectal cancer with the disease, instead thinking such symptoms are indicative of a less serious illness or condition. Screenings can not only determine if those symptoms are a result of colorectal cancer but also find colorectal cancer before such symptoms even develop. Screenings and screening guidelines vary depending on the individual, as people with a higher than average risk for the disease may be told to start receiving annual screenings before they turn 50, which is the age when people are told to receive such screenings regardless of their backgrounds.
* Reconsider your diet. Adopting a healthier diet is another way many men and women can reduce their risk for colorectal cancer. Red meat is a great source of many nutrients, including protein, iron and zinc. But studies have shown that a diet high in red meat increases a person's risk for colorectal cancer, which may be due to chemicals known as nitrites forming when meat is digested or processed. In addition, the CCS notes that red meat contains higher amounts of heme iron than white meat. That's significant, as heme iron has been shown to cause damage to the innermost layer of the colon wall, which is known as the mucosa. A diet without much red or processed meats, which are those preserved by curing, smoking or salting, can lower one's risk for colorectal cancer.
* Cut back on alcohol consumption. The International Agency on Cancer Research notes that there is sufficient evidence linking alcohol consumption to colorectal cancer. Men and women who excessively consume alcohol may be at greater risk of colorectal cancer because such consumers tend to have low levels of folic acid in the body. Numerous studies have linked low levels of folate to a higher risk of colorectal cancer, and one study that examined the effects of folate deficiency on mice concluded that folate deficiency increased DNA damage by decreasing the expression of two genes involved in DNArepair. When consuming alcohol, men should stick to no more than two drinks per day while women who are not pregnant should limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day. Pregnant women should not consume alcohol.
* Reduce exposure to heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Meat that is barbecued, fried, broiled, or cooked to well done can produce heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, both of which have been found to cause changes in DNA that may increase cancer risk. According to the National Cancer Institute, HCAs form when amino acids, sugars and creatine react at high temperatures, such as those necessary when frying foods or grilling over an open flame. PAHs, which also can be found in cigarette smoke and exhaust fumes from automobiles, form when fat and juices from meat grilled directly over an open fire drip onto the fire and cause flames, which contain PAHs that then adhere to the surface of the meat. To reduce exposure to HCAs and PAHs, avoid prolonged cooking times and direct exposure of meat to an open flame or high heat source, flip meat often, discard charred areas of meat before eating and never use meat drippings to make gravy.
Many risk factors for colorectal cancer are beyond an individual's control, but men and women still can take steps to significantly reduce their risk of developing this deadly disease.