Part 1 of 3 Part Series
Bowel cancer or colorectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in the world, affecting both women and men similarly (see table below*). But it is also one the more preventable and treatable cancers, particularly if it is caught in the early stages. However, it is important to recognize that in order to prevent this type of cancer there are risk factors which do increase your chances of getting bowel cancer in the first place, and as the saying goes: “prevention is better than cure’’, always.
Certain lifestyle factors have very strong links to bowel and colorectal cancers. Yet, with a couple of these, you have less control over, such as family history and the age-factor. I have stated in previous articles however, specifically in relation to inherited, deviant genes, that the emphasis is more on what we are doing to our genes, rather than what they are doing to us.
Below is a list of known risk factors for bowel cancer and what we can do to reduce those risks, bringing back some sense of control over what happens to us down the track.
Screening and Early Detection
Screening and early detection of colorectal cancer saves many lives!
In the US, about half of all colon cancer deaths could have possibly been prevented, especially if people who are within a higher risk category are screened or tested. From the age of 50, the risk of colon cancer increases, as more than 90% of cases are diagnosed in people 50 years and over. So, if you are in that higher risk age bracket, regular testing could potentially save your life.
Colorectal cancer usually has its origin as a pre-cancerous polyp or small growth on the lining of the colon or rectum. Regular screening will usually detect any of these abnormalities before they turn into cancers. If cancer is found through one of the screening tests, and it is found early, the cancer is then highly treatable. But if you choose not to get regular screening, and you already have an unknown cancer lurking about, your chances of survival are regrettably greatly reduced. So it is worthwhile to “bite the bullet” so to speak, and get tested.
A non-invasive, easy test can be done to search for signs of blood in your feces. FOBT – fecal occult blood testing, whilst not 100% accurate in every case, is still currently the most well researched screening test for bowel cancer. If this test comes back ‘positive’ for evidence of blood, then you will need to do further surveillance-type testing.
Surveillance testing to find pre-cancerous polyps or cancer take a much more ‘up close and personal’ look at the structure of the colon and/or rectum to find any abnormal areas. This can be done in several ways. The use of medical imaging or X-rays and CT scans may be one option. This may involve the insertion of a tube into the rectum, inflating it with either air or an illuminating substance called barium. Scans and images are then taken of your colon and rectum, providing more detailed information.
Another test, which is often more accurate, is colonoscopy. This is done in either a hospital’s outpatient department, clinic, or in a doctor’s office. A special cleansing bowel preparation will be given several days prior to your test. Once you are given a sedating medication (into a vein) to make you very sleepy and comfortable, your doctor will then closely examine the entire length of the colon and rectum through a thin, flexible, lighted tube with a small video camera at the other end. Special instruments can be passed through the colonoscope to take samples (biopsy) of any suspicious looking areas, such as polyps, if needed. It generally takes approximately 30 minutes.
Dietary Choices and Prevention
It is generally accepted amongst health care professionals that a healthy diet filled with a variety of fruits, vegetables, fiber, whole grains (but not if you are gluten intolerant) and good quality protein can play a direct role in the prevention of cancers, especially of the colon and bowel.
The link between eating meat and cancer has been somewhat controversial over the years, however research has shown convincingly that red meat and especially processed meat, is associated with a modest increased risk of bowel cancer. Blackening or charring of meat is also best avoided.
Increase your intake of omega 3 fatty acids. This is found in oily fish, chia seeds, hemp seeds and ground flaxseeds, free range eggs and walnuts. Omega 3 fats can be taken in fish oil capsules or vegan capsules, where the oil is derived from algae.
A healthy bowel requires plenty of fiber, which can be found in fresh raw fruits and vegetables, unprocessed cereals, raw muesli, legumes, seeds and nuts. If you still experience difficulty with constipation, our product Fibertone is great to naturally increase fiber in your diet. It is also important to drink plenty of water to assist the fiber to move through your bowel with ease. This helps to keep your bowel and colon healthy and regular. If you have a family history of bowel cancer I encourage you to have a blood test to check if you have the genetic pattern for gluten intolerance – this test is known as the HLA DQ Gene test.
Eat plenty of antioxidant-rich foods. They have anti-cancer benefits. When there are excess free radicals in our body, they can damage the DNA in our cells. This can allow cancers to form. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals and prevent them from damaging the cells. They are also known as “free radical scavengers”. We find antioxidants in fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh green herbs, avocados, nuts, seeds and whole grains. If you are gluten intolerant or overweight, avoid grains as they will increase your risk of bowel cancer. There are smaller quantities of antioxidants in meat, poultry and fish. Antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, vitamins A, C, selenium and E.
The mineral selenium has powerful anti-cancer properties and may prove vital as a protective measure against damage caused by free radicals. Selenium is found in Brazil nuts, meat, seafood and garlic, but in most countries food only provides about 50% of recommended daily intake of selenium. Plant foods alone have inconsistent amounts of selenium due to huge variations in the soil content from different farms. It is not usually possible to get really good amounts of selenium from your diet alone, and as a preventative measure against bowel cancer, it is wise to supplement your diet. I would usually recommend a dose of 150 – 200mg daily in this case. Research shows that it is more protective to take three different types of selenium such as found in Selenomune.
The above statements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease.
Dietary Choices and Prevention
Screening and Early Detection