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March 1, 2016 | 4 minute read

6 Steps to Prevent Half of Colorectal Cancer Cases

For National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, AICR experts share six research-based strategies to reduce the risk.

WASHINGTON, DC – Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths and the third most common cancer in the United States. The latest research shows that Americans can prevent tens of thousands of these cancers every year through eating a healthy diet, getting enough physical activity and staying a healthy weight, say experts at the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR).

“Research now suggests that 50 percent of colorectal cancers in the United States are preventable each year through diet, weight, and physical activity,” says Alice Bender, MS, RDN, AICR’s Head of Nutrition Programs. “That’s about 67,200 cases every year.”

For National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Bender shares six evidence-based steps to reduce your risk. The strategies stem from the AICR’s report, Food, Nutrition Physical Activity and the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer, an analysis of the global evidence.

1. Stay a healthy weight and watch out for belly fat
Research now shows that excess body fat links to increased risk of colorectal cancer, along with nine other cancers. The report also concludes that carrying excess belly fat – regardless of weight – is a risk factor for colorectal cancer.

Starting Step: 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, the most recent report 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.)

Starting Step: 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.

Starting Step: 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.

Starting Step: Limit red meat consumption to 18 ounces per week – roughly the equivalent of five or six small cooked portions of beef, lamb or pork – and avoid processed meat. Try fresh roasted chicken breast, hummus or peanut butter for sandwiches.

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 drinks daily for men; one for women.

Starting Step: 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 a diet filled with relatively high amounts of garlic reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.

Starting Step: 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.


Additional Resources:

Report: Food, Nutrition Physical Activity
and the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer

Preventing Colorectal Cancer Infographic


Editor’s Notes: 

The National Cancer Institutes estimates that there will be 134,490 cases of colorectal cancer in 2016.
Along with healthy lifestyle habits, colorectal cancer screenings also prevent this disease from developing.

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