March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colon cancer is most common in people over the age of 50, but recent studies show that it is on the rise in younger people as well. The most important thing you can do to help prevent colon cancer is to be screened after the age of 50, even if you have no symptoms. Younger people should be screened if there are symptoms (i.e. blood in the stool, unexplained anemia, or unexplained weight loss.) Most of the time, these symptoms end up being something other than cancer in a person younger than 50, but they should be investigated to be sure, especially in someone with a family history of colon cancer.
What lifestyle factors affect your risk of developing colon cancer? The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) makes these recommendations.
1) Watch your Weight: Being overweight or obese can raise your risk of colon cancer. Even modest 10% weight loss (20# for someone who weighs 200#) can go a long way to lowering your risk.
2) Move More: Exercise can take all different forms—from riding a stationary bike to swimming. Walking more as part of your daily activities (parking farther from the store, taking the stairs, and walking to see a coworker instead of emailing) is a great way to get started. Shoot for at least 30 minutes a day, 6-7 days a week.
3) Fiber Up: Fiber helps move food through the digestive tract. Eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and beans. Drink plenty of fluids to help move the fiber through. (Here’s a bonus--high fiber foods may help you lose weight, too!)
4) Cut Processed Meats: Bacon is back, it seems! But there is plenty of research to show that the more processed meat consumed, the higher the risk of cancer. Eat less bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and lunch meats.
5) Moderate: Alcohol consumption increases the risk of colon cancer in men, and it likely does in women as well. If you choose to drink, keep it moderate. Moderate drinking is defined as one drink a day for women and two for men. A serving of alcohol is 5 oz of wine, 12 oz of beer, and 1.5 oz of hard liquor.