Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates 95,270 new cases of colon cancer in the U.S. in 2016.
Now for some good news: the death rate (the number of deaths per 100,000 people per year) from colorectal cancer has been dropping in both men and women for several decades. Why? Because we are getting better at prevention and taking the necessary steps to live a healthier lifestyle combined with early screenings and better, faster treatments. As a result, there are now more than 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.
I wish my mom was one of those 1 million survivors. In 1999, my mom passed away from colon cancer at the young age of 51 years. It took her life quickly. Six months after her diagnosis, her body wasn’t strong enough to continue on fighting. The cancer had spread to other organs and was moving too fast.
Looking back, there were signs. Her mood changed considerably and she didn’t want to participate in many of our family activities. She was tired, sad, angry and not present most of the time. I remember looking at her differently or being caught off guard by some of the things she would say. She wasn’t eating well and it seemed like everything she did eat, made her sick to her stomach. The doctors passed it off as flu for awhile until it became more serious – by then it was too late. It’s a horrific experience watching a love one die of cancer and my hope is that this article may shine a little more light on colon cancer and provide motivation to live a healthier lifestyle with preventative care. We’ve come a long way since 1999…today, this disease can be beat, but most importantly, it can be prevented.
According to the World Cancer Research Fund, 47% of cases of colorectal cancer can be prevented by eating and drinking healthily, being physically active and maintaining a healthy weight.
With that said and known, most of us still think our genes determine longevity of life. Once we find out an immediate family member had or has cancer, we start to worry that cancer is inescapable and we too will have to battle with it one day. That is not necessarily true. Inherited gene mutations that increase the risk of colon cancer can be passed through families yes, but these inherited genes are linked to only a small percentage of colon cancers.
The most common forms of inherited colon cancer syndromes are:
Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). HNPCC, also called Lynch syndrome, increases the risk of colon cancer and other cancers. People with HNPCC tend to develop colon cancer before age 50.
Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). FAP is a rare disorder that causes you to develop thousands of polyps in the lining of your colon and rectum. People with untreated FAP have a greatly increased risk of developing colon cancer before age 40.
FAP, HNPCC and other, rarer inherited colon cancer syndromes can be detected through genetic testing. If you’re concerned about your family’s history of colon cancer, talk to your doctor about whether your family history suggests you have a risk of these conditions.
CHANGE YOUR DIET AND LIFESTYLE!
Yes, easier said than done, but without your health – you have nothing – and that’s the attitude you should have with lifestyle changes.
Dietary fat may be one of the biggest contributors to the colorectal cancer-causing process. High fat consumption increases the amount of substances that are released into the digestive tract called bile acids. Bile acids help break down fats. When they get into the colon, the large amount of bile acids may be converted to secondary bile acids, which could promote tumor growth, especially of the cells that line the colon. Cut out the fat!
Our body has an amazing way of fighting and recovering from all the bad choices we make. Our body’s cells have a natural defense strategy against free radicals (substances that damage the body’s cells through oxidation) and are able to repair the damage caused by them. Antioxidants work by bolstering the body’s defenses against potentially dangerous substances called free radicals. Some examples of antioxidants are carotene, beta-carotene, and lutein. Foods that are good sources of antioxidants include fruits, vegetables, and certain types of tea.
Other minerals and vitamins that can help you maintain healthy organs include Folic acid, Calcium and Vitamin D. Folic acid is already known to be essential in forming new cells and tissues as well as keeping red blood cells healthy. The most common sources of folic acid are citrus fruits and dark green leafy vegetables, especially spinach. New studies show that Vitamin D and Calcium not only help with bone strengthening, but they may also fight off colon cancer.
Good sources of calcium include: milk, cheese, yogurt, salmon, sardines, and dark-green leafy vegetables such as kale, mustard, and collard greens. Sources of vitamin D include salmon, sardines, fortified cow’s milk, egg yolks, and chicken livers — and don’t forget the sun. Twenty minutes of sun before 10 a.m. and after 3 p.m. is an excellent source of vitamin D.
One of the best weapons against colon cancer is fiber. Though there is conflicting research as to whether or not fiber has protective effects against colorectal cancer, there is evidence that fiber intake improves overall health by moving wastes through the digestive tract faster. This may give potentially toxic wastes less time to come into contact with intestinal cells. It is also believed that some types of fiber help detoxify potential cancer-causing substances as well as prevent these substances from being absorbed by the cells of the intestines. Good sources of fiber include: whole-grain cereals and breads, prunes, berries, kidney beans and other legumes, fresh fruits and vegetables, and brown rice.
What should you Eat? (American Cancer Society)
Organically grown fruits and vegetables, especially apples, cranberries, blueberries and grapes
Extra virgin olive oil
Whole grains for their high fiber
Cold water fish such as salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and halibut for their beneficial omega 3 fatty acids
Onions, garlic and leeks
Brassica vegetables including broccoli, kale, mustard greens
Grapefruit and other citrus fruits
What should you Drink?
Red or purple grape juice
Avoid red meats and other foods rich in omega-6 fatty acids, saturated fats, pickled foods, refined sugar and alcohol.
Choose most of the foods you eat from plant sources.
Limit your intake of high-fat foods, particularly from animal sources.
Be physically active; achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages.
MOST IMPORTANTLY – SCREENINGS! If you have a family history of colon cancer, your insurance will pay for the screenings every 4-5 years as young as age 20+. For everyone else, start your screenings at age 50 (earlier if possible). Don’t let the insurance industry dictate when you should get your screening – if you have the extra money, get screened before age 50!