Australia has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. Yet it is also one of the most preventable cancers.
Reducing known lifestyle risk factors and undergoing regular bowel screening are vital tools in reducing the risk of for developing bowel cancer.
8 ways to help prevent bowel cancer
1. Get screened
Screening before symptoms become present is important, because bowel cancer can develop without any early warning signs. Surveillance may mean regular faecal occult blood testing (or FOBT) of the bowel movement for invisible blood. If positive for blood, colonoscopy is recommended to investigate the cause.
Most bowel cancers develop slowly from pre-cancerous growths called polyps. Early detection and removal of these pre-cancerous polyps prevents the development of bowel cancer.
Screening every 1 to 2 years can reduce your risk of dying from bowel cancer by up to 33%.
2. Eat a healthy high-fibre diet
Eating a variety of fruit and vegetables, reducing saturated fats (in animal products, processed foods and takeaway). There is also strong evidence the eating fibre can help prevent bowel cancer by reducing the risk of problems such as constipation and inflammation of the bowel wall. National guidelines recommend 2 serves of fruits, 5 serves of vegetables, and wholegrain foods every day.
3. Engage in regular physical activity
There is strong evidence that exercise cuts the risk or bowel cancer and polyps, and a sedentary lifestyle increases it. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, five or more days a week.
4. Reduce consumption of red and processed meat
Research has shown a moderate effect of red meat in increasing risk of bowel cancer, especially with processed meat. Charring of meat is best avoided.
5. Don’t smoke
Smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop bowel cancer, and even more likely to die from the disease.
6. Maintain a healthy body weight
Obesity is linked to bowel cancer, especially in men. And the evidence points to abdominal obesity (or belly fat) as a key factor. Maintaining a healthy body weight, for both men and women, also reduces the risk of a number of other diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
7. Drink alcohol in moderation
Heavy drinking may increase risk of bowel cancer. If you do drink, one standard drink per day for women, two standards drinks per day for men, with 2 alcohol free days per week for both ,is recommended.
8. Know your family history
Heredity (the genetic transmission of characteristics from parent to offspring) plays a big role in bowel cancer; up to 20% of people who develop bowel cancer have a relative with the disease. Find out if your relatives had bowel cancer or polyps (growths in the colon or rectum) that can be precursors of the disease. Also find out how old they were when they were diagnosed. If there is a strong family history of bowel cancer in your family, genetic counselling can be beneficial.