While it’s always important to spread information and talk about the various types of cancer that continue to plague our society, awareness months are great opportunities to shed light on specific types. March is officially National Colon Cancer Awareness Month, and there’s never been a more important time (or year) to talk about the risks we all face.
Most people think of colon cancer as a disease that affects only folks over 50, considering you have to be at least that age in order to qualify for routine screenings. But that’s sadly untrue. And the even more worrisome part is that, while the rates of new colon and rectal cancer diagnosis in the U.S. have been falling for the 50+ crowd, rates seem to be increasing for the under-50 crowd.
The findings come from a new study out of The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, which analyzed data from more than 393,000 people diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer between 1975 through 2010. Based on the trends they saw, instances of colon cancer in people ages 20-34 will increase by 90 percent and instances of rectal cancer will increase by 124.2 percent by the year 2030.
While the exact reasons for this increase in colorectal cancers, especially in such young ages, are still unclear, one possibility may be the increase of obesity in our country, which is one major risk for both colon and rectal cancers. But even those who don’t fall under the category of obese are not immune, as another one of the key causes of colon cancer is an unhealthy diet. Poor digestion, inflammatory foods and a diet lacking fiber, healthy fats and vegetables creates a microenvironment that tilts towards cancer. And, while a healthy diet is certainly a good place to start, the gut is really where inflammation begins. This is why it’s important to think beyond just high fiber and try to include foods high in probiotics, low in sugar and yeast and minimize dairy and gluten—both difficult to digest proteins.
Genetics, of course, can also play a role, but we can thankfully manage much of our genetics through food, proper screening and understanding all our risk factors. If you have a family history of poor colon health, consider adding digestive enzymes to your regimen, to help balance ease the digestive process.
Here are four important ways to reduce your risk of colorectal cancers starting now:
Do not be caught by surprise! Screenings help catch risks among those of us who think we’re perfectly healthy (and maybe a little invincible, too). And they don’t only look out for colon or rectal cancers—they also look for other diseases. Colonoscopies, for example, can find growths called polyps and remove them even before they have a fighting chance at turning into cancer. While the age for screenings of this kind is still 50, the American Cancer Society is currently in the process of updating their guidelines to better reflect the new data that shows more instances in younger people. If you have certain risk factors that increase your risk of getting colorectal cancers, for example, if it runs in your family, you may be able to arrange a screening at an earlier age.
Know your risk.
Food intolerances, even undiagnosed celiac disease, can contribute to poor colon health, so it’s important to be aware of what conditions may make you more susceptible. The most “colon vulnerable” patients would be those described as having spleen meridian deficiency, where sluggish digestion creates a state of “dampness,” leading to inflammation and altered motility. Another vulnerable condition is large intestine meridian deficiency, which can be the result of allergies, blocked energy in other meridians or again the wrong diet.
There is now an at-home test called Cologuard that we’re using as well for earlier detection, so speak with your primary care provider if that’s something you think would be beneficial for you.
Eat lots of veggies, fruits and whole grains.
A diet that is high in red meats, like beef, pork, lamb or liver, in addition to processed meats, like hot dogs, sausages and deli meat, can raise your risk of colorectal cancers. I recommend getting your fill mainly from vegetables, fruits and whole grain fibers, which have been linked with a lower risk of colorectal cancers. They’re also loaded with antioxidants and bacterial diversity and totally delicious (along with nutritious!). Word of advice: Fiber’s excellent when consumed naturally in your diet, but be wary of fiber supplements, as those have not been shown to help in the fight against cancer or diseases. Instead, I would pick a high quality probiotic—one that’s greater than 50 billion CFU, along with digestive enzymes and supplemental fiber.
Don’t smoke and cut down on drinking
Alcohol and smoking create oxidative stress and worsen yeast overgrowth in the gut, all of which are cancer risks. Smoking is also a well-known cause of lung cancer and other diseases. As far as alcohol is concerned, do your best to limit consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
In addition to reducing belly fat, improves blood flow to the vessels of the gut and abdomen and releasing feel-good hormones, known as endorphins, that are flat-out addicting (they’re the reason you sometimes want to work out again the next day and the next!), exercise reduces your risk of countless diseases, including colorectal cancers.