Here in the US, colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer. It is also one of the most preventable.
AICR research shows that Americans can prevent nearly half of colorectal cancer cases every year through eating a healthy diet, getting enough physical activity and staying a healthy weight. To mark Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, we’re highlighting five steps you can take to reduce your colorectal cancer risk thorough lifestyle.
1. Stay a healthy weight and watch out for belly fat
Colorectal cancer is one of eleven cancers linked to overweight and obesity. The latest AICR research also finds that too much belly fat — regardless of weight – increases risk of this cancer.
What you can do. If your weight is higher than what’s healthy for you, it’s important to remember that even losing 10 pounds or so – and keeping it off – can benefit your health. (See what a cancer prevention expert wrote about modest weight loss.) Become portion-size savvy. Choose larger portions of colorful vegetables, but keep servings of calorie-packed foods like meats, cheese and nuts smaller. Limit desserts and sweets to two or three times a week in small portions.
2. Fit activity into your day
From housecleaning to running, research finds that moderate physical activity – of all types – reduces the risk of colon cancer. (There was insufficient evidence to make a similar conclusion regarding rectal cancer.)
What you can do: Find 10 minutes today to move, whether taking a break at work or while watching TV. Build on that over time by taking more activity breaks or extending the 10 minutes to 30 minutes.
3. Eat plenty of fiber
Eating a diet with plenty of high fiber foods lowers the risk of colorectal cancer. For every 10 grams of fiber coming from foods daily – slightly less than a cup of beans – the risk of colorectal cancer is reduced by 10 percent.
What you can do: Move to the AICR New American Plate way of eating: fill two-thirds or more of your plate with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans and nuts and no more than one-third with animal protein such as poultry or lean red meat.
4. Cut the red meat; avoid the processed
The report found that regularly eating high amounts of red meat and even small amounts of processed meat increases colorectal cancer risk. Ounce for ounce, consuming processed meat increases the risk twice as much as consuming red meat.
Processed meats include hot dogs, bacon, sausage and deli meats.
What you can do: Limit red meat consumption to 18 ounces per week – roughly the equivalent of five or six small cooked portions of beef, lamb or pork. Avoid bacon, hot dogs and other processed meats except for special occasions.
5. Go moderate on the alcohol
The evidence is convincing that drinking alcohol increases colorectal cancer risk in men and it probably increases the risk in women. When it comes to cancer risk, the best advice is: If you don't drink, don't start. For people who do drink, AICR recommends limiting alcohol to no more than two standard alcoholic drinks daily for men; one for women.
What you can do: Become aware of how much a standard drink is by measuring the following amounts and pouring it into your glassware: 5 ounces of wine, 12 oz. beer and 1.5 ounces of liquor.
6. Enjoy plenty of garlic
Evidence suggests that regularly including garlic in your diet reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.
What you can do: Add chopped garlic to stews, stir-fries, vegetables and roasted meats. Chop the garlic then wait 10-15 minutes before cooking in order to activate the health-promoting ingredients.
Regular screening also has a key role in colorectal cancer prevention, as it can find precancerous growths (polyps). Here’s more information from the CDC on who and when to get screened.