7 changes you can make today to lower your risk of colorectal cancer

Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world and bowel cancer is the second most common type of newly diagnosed cancer in Australia.

14,958 Australians are told they have bowel cancer every year. Bowel cancer is Australia’s second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer, claiming the lives of 4,162 people every year.

Here are 7 ways to help protect your colon health:

1. Get screened

If you are over 50, chances are you would have already been sent a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) by the government. The reason why you should test for the disease even if everything seems fine down there is because bowel cancer can develop without any early warning signs. The cancer can grow on the inside wall of the bowel for several years before spreading to other parts of the body, according to the Bowel Cancer Foundation.

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Often very small amounts of blood, invisible to the naked eye, leak from these growths and pass into bowel movements before any symptoms are noticed.

A bowel cancer screening test can detect these small amounts of blood in bowel movements. Screening using a faecal immunochemical test is one of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of bowel cancer as it can help detect pre-cancerous polyps for removal during colonoscopy or cancer in its earliest stages when it is easier to treat and cure.The faceal immunochemical test involves placing small samples of toilet water or stool on a special card and mailing them to a pathology laboratory for analysis.  The results are then sent back to you and your GP.For more information on screening, click here.

2. Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains

It’s no secret that vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are good for you, but did you know they’re also vital to your bowel health? The more fibre in your diet, the better your chances are of avoiding colorectal cancer.

3. Get regular exercise

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If you are not physically active, you have a greater chance of developing colon cancer. Increasing your activity may help reduce your risk, so start small by just simply walking, then get into jogging or even Pilates or another class regime to keep you motivated.

Shopping centres have walking groups, which you can find more about here.

4. Maintain a healthy weight

Getting rid of that extra fat around your middle might reduce your risk, especially in your 60s. A European study followed 120,000 overweight or obese adults ages 55 to 69 for a period of 16 years, and found the diagnosis of colon cancer was 25 per cent higher than that in thinner people of the same age.

5. Cut down on red meat in your diet

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Like an good Aussie family, you likely sat down to dinner every week to some meat and 3 veg. Unfortunately this pattern of eating red meat is not great for your gut and bowels, and has been linked to bowel cancer. Many studies suggest eating red meat and other processed meats raises your risk of colon cancer, so it’s best to limit your servings to once or twice a week.

6. Avoid antibiotics

Some antibiotics can also change your gut bacteria, and may increase your risk for colon cancer. In a UK study that compared over 20,000 medical records of cancer patients to those of 86,000 healthy patients, those who were prescribed penicillin, quinolones, and metronidazole were about 10 per cent more likely to develop colon cancer. Talk to your doctor about your medication and risk if you are concerned.

7. Get enough vitamin D

Surprisingly, vitamin D levels correspond to your risk factor for colon cancer. Its found in many foods and from sun exposure, and can also potentially reduce your chances of developing other internal cancers. Try some supplements and speak to your doctor.

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Risk factors you can’t change

Most people who are diagnosed with colon cancer are older than 50. Bowel Cancer Australia encourages all Australians from age 50, who do not have symptoms or a family history of bowel cancer, to undertake bowel cancer screening every 1 to 2 years using a Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT).

One of the risk factors you can’t change is a family history of colon cancer or pre-cancerous polyps, especially in parents, brothers and sisters, or children. As many as 1 in 5 people who develop colon cancer have other family members who’ve had it.

Your personal history can also affect your risk – other conditions, such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or type 2 diabetes can also increase your risk of colon cancer. If you have any of these problems, talk to your doctor about screening and how to get tested.

But what you can change is your diet habits, quit smoking, get regular screening and participate in regular exercise.

Tell us, do you have a family history of colorectal cancer? What do you do to minimise the risk?