4 Ways to Reduce Colon Cancer Risk

Published by Rebecca Baron on

Cancer continues to grow on the rise across the world, being one of the top 3 leading causes of death in the Western World. Since the beginning of 2001, cases of colon cancer have significantly increased in younger adults, who are often denied preventive screening due to their age.

While genes and hereditary factors are unavoidable, environmental or lifestyle choices are external forces that one can somewhat control.

While the world was shocked by the death of Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) at the young age of 43, it brought attention the need for reform in medical screening. A considerable percentage of young adults develop cancer before middle age, often receiving later stage diagnosis due to not having permission for preventative screenings. More often than not, most men are not asked to receive their first colonoscopy until age 50. Women are screened even more rarely, usually only when symptoms persist, and are often ignored.

This needs to change.

Insurance providers should lift restrictions on patients’ access to care. Especially in regard to preventative care. It would be logical to approve for diagnostic screening to catch problems earlier, but sadly these industries seem to be more interested in profit margins and increasing shareholder value. It shouldn’t have to be an uphill battle to get use out of your health insurance plan.

Shiraj Sen, MD, PhD, Investigator at the GI Cancer Research Program and Associate Director of Drug Development at Sarah Cannon Research Institute at HealthONE says “These young adults often tell us that they were not aware that colon cancer could be the cause of their symptoms and that led them to not see a doctor until their symptoms worsened quite significantly. Others tell us that they saw multiple physicians before a correct diagnosis was made.” [1]

Photo by Polina Zimmerman

How to know my risk of colon cancer?

Know Your Family History

Not just for colon cancer, but all cancers and all gastro-intestinal related diseases. Did you have an uncle with diabetes, a grandmother with diverticulitis; what about a relative with ulcers?

Knowing the cards you are dealt with is immensely better than not knowing. When you know what your blood line is more prone to, you can take preventative measures. Ask your relatives to learn more about your family tree.

Karolina Grabowska

What About Learned Habits?

How does your family communicate, or cope with stress? Thoughts and feelings are allowed to be freely discussed or do things stay bottled up? Do you know your attachment style? There are behavioral traits that don’t get passed down genetically; rather behaviorally. Taking time for self-reflection and learning healthy coping habits breaks the cycle and gives you a stronger understanding of who you are and where you come from.

Environmental factors can be passed over the generations. Communities that lack access to fresh produce and groceries are often referred to a “food desert.” Such areas are often hit with higher rates of cancer, due to their higher consumption of ultra-processed food.

Know the Signs

Common Symptoms of Colon Cancer:

  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Rectal bleeding, either bright or dark red in color
  • Narrow stools
  • General abdominal discomforts, such as frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness and/or cramps or major change in bowel habits
  • Feeling the urge to empty your bowel but nothing passes (tenesmus)
  • Anemia caused by iron deficiency
  • Unexplained weight loss

You know your body better than anyone else. Regular check-ups annually help catch things early too. If something feels really off, do not postpone a visit to a doctor.

In the United States, over 12,000 people per year on average get colon cancer before the age of 50. With a large percentage of young adults in the United States being uninsured or under-insured; we often have to take matters into our own hands.

What if I don’t have health insurance?

It’s easy to state “just make an appointment with your primary care doctor” when you are lucky enough to even have health insurance and afford to use it! The sad reality is, millions of Americans lack access to healthcare. Many falls in a gray area, where they make too much to qualify for government funded plans, but don’t make enough to afford insurance premiums, deductibles, and lest not forget co-insurance! Many plans have deductibles costing thousands of dollars, making people financially front most of their care until insurance pay out a penny. What are they actually good for?

When you are young, you often feel you can skirt by uninsured. In some ways, paying out of pocket for yearly checkups and lab testing will save you in the long run than paying monthly premium plans. Even if you are uninsured, it’s important to see a doctor. Try to get regular check-ups at a sliding scale clinic or look into state-funded insurance assistance. Make a budget to put money aside for regular checkups. Keep copies of your records or lab results and bring them each time you see a different healthcare provider. Being able to monitor your health status over the years, really helps doctors to catch something early. It’s imperative to be your own health advocate.

“Cancer is not a foreign invader, rather a symptom of cellular distress in the body.”

Doctors learn only so much, are often overworked, and have to make general assessments against very different and intricate bodies of patients. They spend years in school, but you’re spending all your years in your body and it’s your only vessel. You need to help them, to help you.

Learn to feel attuned to your physical state. Notice when your digestion is off. Take notice of the food, beverages, or situation that cause G.I. distress. For example, dairy can irritate a lot of people’s stomachs; even gluten intolerance can gum of the small intestine’s villi, that it interferes with nutrient absorption.

3. Fuel Your Gut Flora

Research is showing more and more how the friendly flora in our gut impacts our overall health. While ultra-processed foods fed the bad bacteria, many fresh fruits and vegetables provide nourishment to those helpful bacteria.

Broccoli is your best friend.

Ultra-processed not only is devoid of many nutrients, but it also feeds the bad guys. Try to avoid foods that cause gut inflammation, the biggest culprits being alcohol, processed flour, sugar, and cured meats. Now I know just like everyone else, a lot of the yummy food out there is not always the healthiest. Understand the risks when you do decide to indulge. We can’t just live off rabbit food!

If you party hard over the weekend or overindulges during the holidays, take a week to eat gentle and nourishing foods or even a day or two to fast.

Read More: The Best Prebiotics for Weight Loss

You know your body better than anyone else does.

4 Tips to Reduce Risk of Colon Cancer

Okay, so we know our family background, have a good feel for what feels right for our bodies and we know what to look for. What else can we do? Lifestyle plays one of the biggest roles in our health, and is the easiest one to control.

#1- Quit Smoking

Smoking increases cancer risks all around and is one of the biggest culprits of preventable death. Not only to the lungs but the entire alimentary canal. Smoking increases throat and stomach cancer, damaging the cells of the alimentary canal. Think of smoking as adding unnecessary poison to the body.

If you smoke, you need to stop YESTERDAY.

#2- Fiber

My first nutrition course was in high school, where the teacher was a gym coach who mostly focused on exercise and sexually transmitted diseases. For fiber, all we needed to know was “it keeps you regular” and that was probably just for an answer on one of the tests. If I never went on to study nutrition in college, which is the case for most people, I would have never learned how crucial fiber plays in gut health.

Photo by: Anna Tukhfatullina

No need to break out the chalky orange powder though. Start with eating a salad every day, and I promise you’ll start to notice a difference by Day 3. I wrote an article about what it was like eating a salad daily for a month, which you can read more about here.

Citrus fruits, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli. brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower are fibrous foods that provide good roughage. Bitter foods and greens are great for the liver, which in turn will benefit the large intestine.

#3- Reduce Red Meat Consumption

Conventional red meat is one of the heaviest proteins to digest and tends to exacerbate other digestive disorders. The CDC lists red meat as a carcinogen, but the growing trend in the carnivore diet shows red meat can be healing to people with digestive issues such as Chron’s disease. While O blood types tend to thrive well on red meat, (me as a chronic anemic) it’s important to be mindful of portions. When able to, opt for grassfed beef or bison.

Red meat is considered: beef, bison, lamb, veal and pork.

A medical review, published through Harvard University, followed the dietary patterns of almost a half million men and women across Europe and the United States. Their findings showed that the participants who ate the highest red meat consumption developed colorectal cancer. Five ounces or more a day, compared to those who ate one ounce or less a day. Surprisingly, chicken weighed no difference, and higher fish consumption was found to lower colon cancer rates. [2]

If you choose to consume red meat, limit your portions in each sitting and try to eat more chicken, fish, or plant-based. Try to find quality cuts of grass-fed beef or sip on bone broth to really reap the good parts. Remember, chicken seems to be neutral on the digestive system, and fish is beneficial to reducing your risks.

“The effects of red meat and fish held up after the results were adjusted for other potential colon cancer risk factors, including body weight, caloric consumption, alcohol consumption, smoking, physical exercise, dietary fiber, and vitamins.”

Processed, cured meats such as bacon, salami, and deli meat increase the risk of cancer overall due to the high salt content, and preservatives called nitrates.

#4- Probiotics

The nerves in the digestive tract relay information to the brain, and often function as a “second brain.” When you get a “gut feeling” about something, that’s usually coming from your gut flora. Another reason why some people who are gluten sensitive will often have “brain fog” after eating wheat. That’s right, your gut flora and digestive system communicates with the brain. What an intricate body we have, right?

Diets high in citrus, leafy greens, and cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower) support good gut flora. Highly processed flour and sugar in the Standard American Diet (SAD) are ideal foods for bad bacteria and candida.

Yogurt? Watch the sugar!

Probiotics are becoming a required supplement in the Western world, due to the overconsumption of foods that bad bacteria prefer. Maintaining a balance of good versus evil is the biggest battle going on in the gut. Having adequate “good bacteria” levels will not only reduce inflammation and G.I. distress but will lower your risk of food-borne illness. Ever heard the phrase, iron gut?

What about yogurt? Only if it’s plain or very low in sugar. The sugar will feed the bad bacteria more than what little surviving cultures of good bacteria is left in most commercial brands.

Do you need to take probiotics daily? Nah. If you eat vegetables on the regular, a probiotic supplement 3x a week is sufficient.

Bonus Tip!

Coffee enemas are designed to help the liver but also acts as a toner for the large intestine. Unlike colonics, coffee enemas do not stretch the large intestine and do not cause dependence. It can improve the motility of the bowel muscles, clears out candida, and some parasites. You can learn all about coffee enemas in my “Coffee Enema 101” guide.

Conclusion

While cancer is often genetic, lifestyle factors play a bigger role than given credit to in the medical realm. Adopting a healthy approach to balanced living early on in life can drastically reduce the complications of chronic disease later in life.

Remember, the quality of your years can add to the quantity of your years here.

Educate yourself and take the time to see a doctor regularly when you are young. Know yourself. Most importantly, think about what you’d like to do with your time on Earth and the impact you have towards the people around you.

For the Love of Food

References

[1] Shiraj Sen, MD, PhD, Investigator at the GI Cancer Research Program and Associate Director of Drug Development at Sarah Cannon Research Institute at HealthONE. https://sarahcannon.com/blog/entry/how-to-spot-early-symptoms-of-colon-cancer

[2] https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/red-meat-and-colon-cancer

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