Understand the Risks, Take Action
March is colorectal cancer awareness month. Awareness is key to prevention. Unlike many other cancers, colorectal cancer is mostly preventable, all based on a healthy diet and lifestyle and early detection through screening.
That said, it is also potentially fatal. Oftentimes detection of colorectal cancer comes too late to treat or cure. Considering it’s the third most common kind of cancer, and second most fatal, it’s important to talk about it, share information, and be aware of how to prevent a mostly preventable cancer. Your health is on your plate and in your movement!
So often, we hear, “eat healthy”, “get more exercise”, without actionable ways to do so. So here are some ways you can take charge of your health and reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Get regular screenings. Yes. The dreaded colonoscopy. But early detection is almost a guaranteed survival. After the age of 50, the American Cancer Society recommends you get regular screenings. But there are other options, besides a colonoscopy. At-home stool tests. check the DNA (non-invasive!). There are also virtual colonoscopies now that use X-rays to check for polyps. The key is to check with your healthcare provider. Find out if you’re eligible for free or reduced costs colonoscopy screenings. Have the conversation with your doctor and be an advocate for your health.
- Stop smoking and lower alcohol consumption. There’s no magic wand for this one. Addiction is its own beast. That said, heavy smokers and drinkers have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer and not surviving.
- Drink. (Water!!) Most of us are dehydrated. All the time. Hydration is critical to regular bowel movements. So, drink up. Most dietitians recommend between 8 and 9 glasses of water each day. People who suffer chronic constipation have a higher incidence of colorectal cancer (an association, not causation). Keep a bottle of water next to you all day. Have water in the fridge with citric fruits to keep you tempted to drink more and more. Replace sugary drinks with flavored water. Put on an alarm to remind you to drink water. (I bet you’re thirsty now!)
- Increase your fruit and vegetable consumption.#MoreMatters … more fruits, more vegetables mean better bladder and colon health.
- Fiber up! High fiber diets – an increase in natural fibers – translate to better colorectal health. More vegetables, legumes, beans, grains, and fruits can improve your health all around. Start by substituting one meat-based meal once/week with a grains and beans-based meal. Increase fiber intake slowly (because a sudden increase might leave you feeling bloated and gassy).
- Get moving! Why? Exercise improves digestion, increases muscle control and the body’s urge to go to the bathroom. This all leads to a healthier colon. Finding time to exercise can be tough, but it’s essential to good health. Walk away bad habits, make movement a mindset, even at the office. Download a walking app to try to outdo yourself every day.
Being aware of how at risk you are for developing colorectal cancer, and taking the steps to reduce that risk, are invaluable tools. Only 5% of people who develop colorectal cancer have a genetic syndrome. The rest can be prevented through awareness, healthy eating and exercise habits, and regular screenings.