Five Tips to Improving your Colon Health and Reducing the Risk of Colon Cancer
There are almost 150,000 cases of colon and rectal cancer each year, of which there are between 50,000 and 60,000 deaths. This makes colon cancer more deadly, in absolute terms, than breast cancer and prostate cancer. And yet, colon cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable diseases. Much of the increase in colon cancer occurrence is due to poor dietary and exercise habits that we, as a society, have adopted in the past several decades. Processed foods, amongst other poor dietary choices, have contributed to an obesity epidemic that has caused rates of colon cancer to increase dramatically through the mid-80s. Fortunately, better screening and education has mitigated some of this rise through the use of colonoscopy. As prevention is always better than even early treatment, here are our top five recommendations on reducing the risk of colon cancer.
The colon uses water – lots of it. When we are well hydrated, the colon absorbs lots of water to form stool and easily expel it from the body. On the other hand, when we’re dehydrated, the colon has more difficulty, increasing the risk of all sorts of colorectal problems including hemorrhoids, diverticulitis and even colon cancer. Make sure you drink the requisite 6 to 8 glasses of water per day – more if you are active or live in a warmer climate. Remember to do so during the winter months too, as the cold, dry air can also dehydrate.
Fiber is the best way to ensure that the colon forms stool properly. Fiber is the bulk that forms stool properly and keeps it moving through the large intestine. When you increase your fiber intake, you may want to do so slowly to avoid some of the side effects of higher fiber intake including flatulence and bloating. However, you will eventually get used to the higher fiber intake and your bowel movements will be more regular. Try to get your additional fiber by substituting processed foods with vegetables, fruits and. Supplement with fiber only if you must and you’re not receiving enough fiber from food.
Smoking is one of the worst habits for your health – not only for the colon for the entire body. Smoking increases the risk of colon cancer, not to mention the myriad of other cancers that smoking has proven to cause. Unfortunately, switching to vaping products may not be much better and may cause other problems. Therefore, eliminating smoking entirely is the best course of action.
Exercise is critically important for everything in our bodies. Not only does it offer physical wellness benefits, but it can also improve our mood through the release of endorphins. As for the colon, regular exercise can make our bowels more regular and along with improved hydration mentioned above, can reduce the risk of colon cancer. Not only that, but proper exercise can ward off obesity which is a leading cause of colorectal problems in general. Aim to get 30 minutes of heart-rate-increasing exercise four times per week. If you also suffer from obesity, try to avoid high impact activities such as tennis, running and try other activities such as bicycling and swimming which are easier on your joints
Lastly, but certainly not least is…screening
Screening for colon cancer is a critically important part of our middle-age and onward. Your primary care physician or colorectal surgeon will give you an appropriate screening schedule. This may start early if you have had previous bouts with cancer or if you have a family history of colon cancer or cancer in general. Otherwise, screening may begin at 50 for normal risk patients. The definitive screening tool is a colonoscopy. While colonoscopies are often met with trepidation, they are low risk and very effective in finding pre-cancerous and cancerous polyps. Cologuard, a noninvasive colorectal screening tool has also become more popular, however we always suggest going for the most accurate diagnostic tool possible. You can read more about our comparison of colonoscopy and Cologuard.
Of course, there are many other ways to maintain your colon health. The bottom line is that your colon health is largely correlated to your general health. So, if you are suffering from excess weight or obesity or poor general health, it is important that you improve your health more holistically. However, the five tips above are the fastest way is to ensure that your colon is healthy and start to reverse any damage due to poor lifestyle choices in the past.
For more information about colonoscopy or if you have any colorectal concerns, please contact can schedule a consultation with our colorectal surgeon, Dr. Alex Crean.