Treatment Care & Tips
Foods to Help Lower Your Colon Cancer Risk
Proper nutrition and diet are important in helping to prevent many diseases, and colon or rectal cancer is no exception. There is no such thing as a cancer prevention diet, but there are things you can eat to reduce your personal risk of developing colon or rectal cancer.
Diets that include lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colon or rectal cancer. While eating red meat and processed meats have been linked with an increased risk of the disease.
Read on to learn more about foods and nutrients that have been said to raise the risk of colon or rectal cancer, and which types of food may be helpful in preventing or lowering your risk of developing colon polyps.
Studies have linked red meat to increased risk of colon or rectal cancer. This is especially true for processed meat, which is meat preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or adding chemical preservatives. Examples of processed meat include bacon, ham, sausage and hot dogs. You should limit yourself to no more than three servings of red or processed meat each week.
Colorful Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables have natural substances that may block the growth of cancer cells or fight the inflammation that can fuel cancer. You should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables – that’s combined servings, not five fruits and five vegetables – daily to decrease your risk of cancer. Your best options include broccoli, cabbage and vitamin-C rich fruits like oranges.
Fatty fish like salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which is great for heart health and may slow the growth of cancer cells. But whether eating fish can help keep you from getting colon or rectal cancer isn’t clear. Some research did find that people who ate fish instead of red meat were less likely to get the disease.
But you should limit fish like swordfish, tuna, tilefish, shark and king mackerel. They may have mercury and other pollutants that can harm your health over time.
Higher levels of dietary calcium from supplements and liquid milk in particular has been linked to a decreased risk of colon or rectal cancer. Vitamin D, which is added to milk, might also protect against this type of cancer. If you do not like or cannot consume dairy, however, calcium and vitamin D supplements may also be helpful. Ask your doctor what might be right for you.
In recent years, some large studies have suggested that fiber intake, especially from whole grains, may lower colorectal cancer risk. Whole grains are good sources of magnesium and fiber, which keep your stools moving. Regular stool movements may grab onto cancer-causing compounds in your colon. You should aim for 90 grams of whole grains daily. Oatmeal, whole wheat bread and brown rice are good whole grain options.
Beans and other legumes like soybeans, peas, and lentils are packed with fiber, protein, and vitamins B and E. They also have compounds called flavonoids, which can keep tumors from growing, and antioxidants that may help protect you from colon or rectal cancer. Consider swapping out one of your usual side dishes for black beans or make a hearty soup if you want to add more beans to your diet.
There is no one magic dietary bullet, no one simple step to take. But making smart food choices may help you lower your chances of getting colon cancer or polyps, even if you have a strong family history of the disease.
In addition to following a healthy diet, there are other lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of getting colon or rectal cancer. Here are a few more ways to protect your colorectal health:
- Get screened for colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends testing starting at age 45 for people at average risk. You may want to start screening earlier if you are at a higher risk. For example, if your mother, father, brother or sister has had colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor about when you should start, and which tests might be right for you.
- Get regular exercise. If you are not physically active, you may have a greater chance of developing colon or rectal cancer.
- Watch your weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting and dying from colon or rectal cancer.
- Don’t smoke. Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colon or rectal cancer.
- Limit alcohol. Alcohol use has been linked with a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
Changing some of these lifestyle habits may be hard. But making the changes is worth it. These changes may also lower your risk for many other types of cancer, as well as serious diseases like heart disease and diabetes.