4 Ways to Reduce Colon Cancer Risk
While the world was shocked at the death of Chadwick Boseman at the young age of 43, a considerable percentage of young adults develop cancer before middle age. 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. 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 young adults often have to take matters into our own hands.
Cancer continues to grow on the rise across the world, being one of the top 3 leading causes of death in the Western World. While genes and hereditary factors are unavoidable, environmental or lifestyle choices are external forces that one can somewhat control.
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.” 
So what can you do to reduce your risks?
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 will immensely help more than not knowing. When you know what your blood line is more prone to, you can take preventative measures and extra consideration. If your prone to diabetes, you can curb that by adopting a paleo or keto type diet.
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. Where you live and how you eat plays a big role. Do you live in a house with mold? High altitude climates can affect people with asthma, not to mention crowded cities have higher air pollution levels.
The availability of fresh produce and quality meats can affect make may for cheaper, processed less nutritious food, salted cured meats with nitrates increases colon cancer risks. Old, outdated pipes can affect drinking water; factors which often disproportionally affects communities of color.
Did your mother teach you to thaw meat out on the counter, or in the fridge? Thawing meat out room temperature, increase the risk of food-borne illness. When I was in college, I once babysat a child where the family referred to soda as “juice.” Reconsider some of the habits you were taught. It’s not that they don’t love you, they did the best they could at their capacity and knowledge at the time. Just as, not embracing passed down habits does not mean you don’t love the family that taught you them.
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. Even if you are uninsured, try to get regular check-ups at a sliding scale clinic, or look into state-funded insurance assistance. Being able to monitor your health status over the years, really helps doctors to catch something early.
“Cancer is not a foreign invader, rather a symptom of cellular distress in the body.”
Know Your 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.
Try to avoid foods that cause gut inflammation, the biggest culprits are alcohol, processed flour, sugar, and meats. Now I know just like everyone else, a lot of the yummy food out there is not always the healthiest. understand the risks that come when you do decide to indulge and try some aftercare.
If you are new to this site, you will know I am not the preachy type of nutritionist. My favorite part of starting a diet is the day before, when you clear out the fridge. Because I don’t know about you, but I try not to waste food, especially delicious food. Life’s too short not to indulge, but take up the habit of balance.
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.
You know your body better than anyone else does.
4 Tips to Reduce Risk
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.
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.
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. brussel 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
Red meat is one of the heaviest proteins to digest and tends to exacerbate other digestive disorders. While O blood types tend to thrive well on red meat, (me as a chronic anemic) it’s important to be mindful of portions.
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. 
“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.
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 nerves in the digestive tract relay information to the brain, and often function as a “second brain.” So 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, brussel 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.
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.
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.
While cancer is often genetic, lifestyle factors play a bigger role than it’s 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 on Earth.
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 & All That’s Good
 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