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Reducing the risk of colon cancer
By Lisa Franzen-Castle
Extension Nutrition Specialist, PhD, RD
UNL Panhandle Research & Extension Center
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the country, and Nebraska has one of the highest incidences of colorectal cancer in the United States.
March is National Colon Cancer Awareness Month and colon cancer is an equal opportunity diagnosis. Both men and women of all racial and ethnic groups are at risk, but it occurs more frequently in people who are obese.
There are several ways to help reduce your risk and prevent colon cancer. Many of these strategies focus on healthy lifestyle practices such as eating healthy, limiting alcohol, not smoking, and being physically active.
How to reduce your risk:
- Eat healthy. Good nutrition is one way to lower your risk. General dietary recommendations include eating less saturated fat and salt and eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Diets rich in vegetables and high-fiber grains have been shown to have a protective effect on the pathophysiology of colorectal cancer. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans stresses that we should limit the intake of refined carbohydrates (starches), such as pastries, sweetened cereals, and other high-sugar foods.
- Focus on folate. Folate is a B vitamin that helps produce and maintain new cells. It may also help prevent changes to DNA that may lead to cancer. Eat foods with folate more often, such as leafy green vegetables like spinach and turnip greens, fruits such as citrus fruits and juices, and dried beans and peas.
- Limit alcohol. If alcohol is consumed it should be done in moderation, and only by adults of legal drinking age. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, this means up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, with one drink defined as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine, or 1.5 fluid ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits.
- Toss tobacco. Based on several studies of groups of people followed over many years, smoking appears to double the risk of colon cancers. If you use tobacco, quit as soon as possible. If you do not use tobacco, do not start. Visit www.americanheart.org and www.smokefree.gov for resources and information on quitting.
- Be active. The American Cancer Society recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity most days of the week. You can even break it up into 10 minute segments throughout the day. Moderate exercise such as walking, gardening, or climbing steps may help reduce your risk. Examples of vigorous activity include jogging or running, fast bicycling, circuit weight training, aerobic dance, martial arts, jumping rope, or swimming.
You can lower your risk of developing colon cancer by managing the risk factors that you can control, such as diet and physical activity. This March, make your health a priority and make some permanent lifestyle changes. For more information, resources, and recipes check out food.unl.edu.