It’s now Colorectal Cancer Month and this March, like any other month, an estimated 11,000 Americans will be diagnosed with this cancer. While colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable — with healthy lifestyle habits, along with screening — it remains the third most common US cancer.
The good news is that earlier diagnosis and better treatments over the decades have led to improved survival. A newly diagnosed patient will join over a million other survivors in this country alone. But survivors face risk of secondary cancers, recurrence and other health challenges.
So what can survivors do to stay healthy? When it comes to lifestyle, here are 3 evidence-based strategies:
1. Be active:
Research suggests that for cancer survivors overall, being physically active may decrease risk of death, promote cardiovascular health, improve quality of life, increase strength and lessen fatigue. For colorectal cancer survivors specifically, a review of the evidence suggests physical activity offers benefits.
Being active appears to lengthen survival time, for example. One analysis of studies that included approximately 7,500 colorectal cancer survivors found that walking about five hours a week linked to lower risk of dying from any cause, and colorectal cancer specifically.
Survivors should aim to avoid inactivity, being as physically active as possible, both during and after treatment. Patients and some survivors may need to ask a health professional for exercise guidance.
The goal is to eventually meet the government’s physical activity guidelines for all Americans:
• 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity each week. Divide it up into short 10-minute blocks throughout the day that will add up over time.
• Muscle-strengthening exercises 2 or more days a week
• Limit sitting time, such as watching TV or sitting at your computer.
2. Get to and stay a healthy weight
AICR research suggests that being overweight or obese increases risk of this cancer, along with nine other cancers. Getting to a healthy weight lowers risk not just for cancer but also for heart disease, a common condition among colorectal cancer survivors.
Colorectal cancer survivors, like other survivors, are advised to maintain a healthy weight. For colorectal cancer survivors considering weight loss, it’s important to not lose muscle. Talk with your healthcare providers about healthy goals, and how to maintain or improve lean body mass by keeping weight loss gradual and including appropriate physical activity.
Survivors working towards a healthy weight who want to speak to a registered dietitian can ask their local cancer center for programs or referrals.
For all, AICR’s New American Plate Challenge is a great 12-week online tool to help you start getting to and staying a healthy weight.
3. Make changes to your diet
There is some evidence that suggests a healthy plant-based diet may help colorectal cancer survivors live longer, and along with that eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes is good for overall health. These plant foods are the key to a diet that reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease.
Some survivors may have trouble tolerating certain plant foods and it may help to speak with a health professional.
To eat a plant-based diet:
• Make sure at least 2/3 of your plate includes vegetables, legumes, whole grains and fruits.
• Limit refined grains, such as white bread, and choose whole grains instead.
• Avoid excess sugar including sugar-sweetened beverages, cakes, and cookies.
• Cut down on red and processed meat.