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March 1, 2017 | 4 minute read

6 Steps to Prevent Nearly Half of Colorectal Cancer Cases

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. AICR experts share research-based strategies to reduce the risk.

WASHINGTON, DC – Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States. It is also one of the most preventable. Research shows that Americans can prevent tens of thousands of colorectal cancer cases every year through diet, physically activity and weight management, say experts at the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR).

“By making a few changes in what you eat and drink, and getting at least 30 minutes of activity in every day, you have the power to significantly lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer,” says Alice Bender, MS, RDN, AICR’s Head of Nutrition Programs. “We estimate that about 63,000 cases in the United States every year wouldn’t have to happen if everyone were to make these lifestyle adjustments and stay a healthy weight.”

For National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, Bender shares six evidence-based steps to reduce your risk.

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 ten other cancers. Carrying excess belly fat – regardless of weight – is a risk factor for colorectal cancer.

What To Do: 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 shows that moderate daily physical activity – of all types – reduces the risk of colon cancer. (There was insufficient evidence to make a similar conclusion regarding rectal cancer.)

What To 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 To 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. Even processed meats in small amounts, eaten regularly, increase the risk. 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.

What To 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 a diet reduces the risk of colorectal cancer.

What To 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

Additional Resources:

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

Preventing Colorectal Cancer Infographic

Obesity and Cancer (infographic)

Editor’s Notes: 

Along with healthy lifestyle habits, colorectal cancer screenings also are key to prevent this disease from developing.

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