March is colon cancer awareness month! Here is EXACTLY what you need to do to protect yourself.
1. Get a screening colonoscopy at age 50 or earlier if you have symptoms or are at increased risk
Although there are other options for screening, colonoscopy is the only modality that evaluates the entire colon and can remove pre-cancerous polyps, preventing colon cancer.
WHAT puts you at increased risk, exactly?
1. Hereditary cancer syndrome
2. Personal or family history of colon cancer or colon polyps? (did anyone in your family have colon cancer, or OTHER types cancers? tell your doctor)
3. Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis)
4. History of abdominal radiation
5. African Americans have the highest CRC rates of all ethnic groups in the US. If you are African American, consider starting screening at age 45.
2. Decrease your risk factors
- Lose weight! Obesity is a risk factor for colorectal cancer.
- Avoid diabetes and developing insulin resistance! If you already have diabetes or pre-diabetes, make sure you are optimizing your sugar management.
- Minimize your red meat and processed meat intake! Red meat or processed meat appear to be associated with an increased risk of colon cancer, particularly on the left side of the colon. Barbecuing or pan-frying at high temperatures has been found to contribute to the risk, as carcinogens are produced from the proteins in the charring process.
- Limit your alcohol intake to 1 drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men. There is a significant increase in risk of colon cancer for moderate (2-3 drinks/day) and heavy drinkers (≥4 drinks per day), but not light drinkers (≤1 drink per day)
3. Optimize your protective factors!
- Move & sweat! Regular physical activity is associated with protection from colorectal cancer. One study found a 26-27% reduced risk of colon cancer when comparing the most versus the least active individuals.
- Follow the #feedyourgutdiet! Eat your fruits & veggies and stay away from the "Western diet" foods! Studies show that total fruit and vegetable consumption was inversely association with colorectal cancer risk and the diet associated with the greatest increase in colon cancer risk is the Western-style diet.
- And my favorite: FIBER!!!! Dietary fiber, particularly from grains and fruits, was associated with a decreased risk of colon adenomas (pre-cancerous polyps) and doubling your total fiber intake from foods could reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by 40%