Colorectal cancer is the third-most commonly diagnosed cancer in spite of being one of the more preventable cancers. Only lung and breast cancer beat out colorectal in terms of number of world-wide diagnoses.
It is estimated that between 50-90% of all colorectal cancers (CRC) are preventable through lifestyle choices and early detection.
Not all risk factors are within our control; however, such as age, race and familial origin, that is, whether CRC runs in your family. 90% of all CRCs occur in persons over the age of 50 with the average age of diagnosis being 70. Those of African American descent have the highest rate of contracting CRC, followed by white, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and finally First Nations.
We can’t do anything about age, race or our genetic fate; however, we are in control of our lifestyle choices. Let’s first take a look at factors that increase the risk of CRC.
Lifestyle Choices that Increase the Risk of CRC:
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think people choose to be obese. However, obtaining and maintaining a healthy body weight can, with a little help, be within our control.
Obesity is defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 30. You calculate your BMI by simply dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared. For example:
Height: 170cm =1.7m (1.7×1.7=2.89)
60/2.89 = BMI of 20.7
A healthy BMI range is between 18.5-24.9. A BMI of 25-29.9 is considered “over weight” and obese is above 30. Those that are obese have a 19% increase in their risk of developing CRC.
If weight loss is something that is on your “to do” list, don’t wait any longer. If you need a little help, feel free to contact me for a consultation. You can start by reading some practical weight loss tips here:
Both red and processed meat are associated with an increase risk in CRC. How much of an increases risk is dependent upon amount and frequency of consumption.
Needless to say, aim to keep your red meat consumption on the low-end and avoid processed meat as much as possible. Processed meats are those preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives such as hot dogs, salamis, ham, bacon, pastrami, and bologna.
Both the Mediterranean and Anti-inflammatory Diets are associated with a lower risk of certain cancers. These diets are rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish while red meat is consumed very infrequently.
Alcohol intake is strongly linked to the risk of developing cancers of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, oesophagus, female breast and colorectum, particularly in men.
Like red and processed meat, this risk factor is dose dependent. Heavier drinkers will have an increased risk of CRC compared to lighter drinkers. In order to reduce your risk of CRC, the Canadian Cancer Society recommends having less than:
- 1 drink a day for women
- 2 drinks a day for men
A drink is:
- one 341 mL (12 oz) bottle of beer (5% alcohol)
- one 142 mL (5 oz) glass of wine (12% alcohol)
- one 43 mL (1.5 oz) shot of spirits (40% alcohol)
Lifestyle Choices that Decrease the Risk of CRC:
Regular Physical Activity
On the plus side of things, those that undertake regular physical activity reduce their risk by a whopping 24%!
If you currently workout aim for 2.5 hours of vigorous exercise per week plus two strength training workouts. If you are just getting started then aim for 20-30 minutes a day of getting your heart rate up. Walking is a great way to start. As your stamina increases so too should your workouts.
Those that consume over 20 grams of dietary fibre a day reduce their risk of CRC by 25%. Diets rich in vegetables, fruits and intact grains repeatedly show significant protection against fatal CRC.
The positive effects of a high fibre diet on CRC risk are numerous. Firstly, it reduces fecal transit time by increasing stool bulk. It also minimizes contact time between potential carcinogens in the colonic constituents and the lining of the colon. Fermentation of fibre in the colon creates short-chain fatty acids which have been shown to protect the cells in the lining of the colon.
Eating a wide variety of colourful vegetables and fruit will not only increase the fibre content of your diet but will also provide a rich source of antioxidants and phytochemicals which help protect against cellular damage and tumour growth.
Calcium & Vitamin D
Those who have higher circulating levels of calcium and vitamin D have a reduced risk of CRC. A recent study showed that vitamin D is able to interact with our immune system to raise the body’s defences against cancer. Calcium may help reduce proliferation and induce cancer cell death (apoptosis) in colonic cells.
Foods rich in calcium include low fat dairy or dairy alternatives, such as soy or almond milk, as well as, edamame and natural soy products, almonds, molasses, white beans. The best source of vitamin D is, of course, the sun. However, during the winter months you may wish to speak to your doctor as to whether a vitamin D supplement is right for you.
Regular fish consumption was also shown to reduce the incidence of CRC by 12%. It is thought that the omega 3 fatty acids found in fish, particularly oily fish, may be involved in the protective effect as they have anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation can exacerbate tumour cell growth.
Those fish highest in omega 3 fatty acids include: salmon, sardines, mackerel (not smoked), anchovies, herring and sablefish.
Interestingly, studies have also shown that omega 3s may help prevent a recurrence of CRC when combined with certain chemotherapy medications.
Cancer is currently the leading cause of death in Canada. Colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers and this information is to arm you with the tools you need to reduce your risk as much as possible.
The final bullet in our arsenal of CRC prevention is screening. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that men and women age 50 and over have a stool test at least every 2 years. There is convincing evidence that stool tests with appropriate follow-up can significantly reduce deaths from colorectal cancer.
Recipe: you won’t miss the meat with this hardy plant based stew loaded with nutrients and fibre. Have you checked out the recipe database yet? If not, click here for a full list of delicious and nutritious recipes
EGGPLANT & CHICKPEA STEW
Serves 8 (great for leftovers)
- 2 large eggplants, chopped 1 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 large onions, thinly sliced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 1 medium zucchini, chopped
- 2 teaspoon(s) dried oregano, crumbled
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup chickpeas, rinsed
- 1 can (28-ounce) tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil to hot pan and add chopped eggplant. Stir frequently for about 5-7 minutes so it starts to brown. Transfer to side plate.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until softened about 3 minutes. Add peppers, zucchini, garlic, oregano, cinnamon stick, salt, pepper, bay leaf,; cook, stirring, for 3 minutes until veggies start to soften. Add tin of tomatoes and bring to a light boil and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
Partially cover pot with lid and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook until all veggies are soft, about 20 minutes. Add chickpeas and warm through for one final minute.
Top with fresh parsley or cilantro.
Note: can be made head of time and reheated or enjoyed the next day for lunch.
Fibre: 12 grams per 1 ¼ cup serving.
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