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Colon and Rectal Cancers on the Rise: How to Reduce Your Risk

A new study shows that colon and rectal cancers are increasing in people under 50. How can you reduce your risk?


A new study on the incidences of colon and rectal cancer revealed good and bad news.

The good news? New diagnoses of colon and rectal cancers are falling among people aged 50 and older.

The bad news? Unfortunately CRC diagnoses are increasing in young adults.

The study, titled Increasing Disparities in the Age-Related Incidences of Colon and Rectal Cancers in the United States, 1975-2010, was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) yesterday.

Its purpose was to “evaluate age-related disparities in secular trends in CRC incidence in the United States.”

The results are concerning:

The overall age-adjusted CRC incidence rate decreased by 0.92% (95% CI, −1.14 to −0.70) between 1975 and 2010. There has been a steady decline in the incidence of CRC in patients age 50 years or older, but the opposite trend has been observed for young adults. For patients 20 to 34 years, the incidence rates of localized, regional, and distant colon and rectal cancers have increased. An increasing incidence rate was also observed for patients with rectal cancer aged 35 to 49 years. Based on current trends, in 2030, the incidence rates for colon and rectal cancers will increase by 90.0% and 124.2%, respectively, for patients 20 to 34 years and by 27.7% and 46.0%, respectively, for patients 35 to 49 years.

The conclusion states:

There has been a significant increase in the incidence of CRC diagnosed in young adults, with a decline in older patients. Further studies are needed to determine the cause for these trends and identify potential preventive and early detection strategies.

Reuters Health reports:

The National Cancer Institute estimates there will be about 96,830 new colon cancers and 40,000 new rectal cancers diagnosed in the U.S. in 2014. There will also be about 50,310 deaths from those types of cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, about one in 20 people will be diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer during their lifetime.

The study didn’t explore why more colon and rectal cancers are occurring in younger people, but researchers said it could be attributed to less healthful lifestyles, including obesity, lack of exercise, and poor diet.

To many of us, that isn’t a shock. After all, the typical American diet is far from healthful, and it is no secret that we aren’t nearly as active as we used to be.

A large, 12-year study conducted in Europe examined health habits to determine which ones affect colon cancer risk:

The study authors examined how five lifestyle factors affected colon cancer risk: healthy weight; low amounts of belly fat; regular physical activity; not smoking and limiting alcohol consumption; and a well-balanced diet. This diet was high in fruits, vegetables, fish, yogurt, nuts and seeds, and foods rich in fiber, and low in red and processed meat.

The more of these factors people had, the lower their risk for colon cancer, according to the researchers. Compared to those with none or only one of the factors, those people with two healthy factors were 13 percent less likely to develop colon cancer while the risk was 37 percent less for those with all five healthy factors, the study found. (source)

Let’s look at what KIND of healthful diet can help reduce the risk of developing colon and rectal cancers.

About 30 years ago, the recommendation to consume a high-fiber diet to reduce colon cancer risk became popular. But that recommendation was largely based on observations that countries with a high fiber intake tended to have rates of colon cancer lower than the rates found in countries with a low fiber intake.

But that’s hardly enough evidence to make such a broad recommendation. Correlation does not equal causation, as they say in scientific circles. Could it be that people who live in countries with lower rates of colon cancer are doing other things differently that are reducing their risk?

As it turns out, probably.

Once actual studies were conducted, it was found was that fiber intake had very little, if any, link with colon cancer.

And, some experts believe that consuming wheat and other grains (commonly recommended sources of fiber) may actually increase risk of developing colon cancer.

Cardiologist Dr. William Davis, author of the best-selling book Wheat Belly, is one of them. In his article titled Nails in the Coffin, he said the following:

People who eliminate wheat experience marked and often total relief from acid reflux, cramps and diarrhea of irritable bowel syndrome, improvement (and occasional cure) of ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. There are marked shifts in bowel bacteria and changes in pancreatic function with wheat elimination. If the irritative and inflammatory effects of wheat consumption on the gastrointestinal tract are so marked, and the effects of removal so dramatic, is it much of a leap to believe that the chronic inflammation and irritation caused by wheat could, over time, also lead to cancer?

After all, a major cause of cancer (“oncogenesis” or “tumorigenesis”) is long-term, repetitive irritation and/or inflammation. The prolonged inflammation and irritation of ulcerative colitis, for instance, can result in colon cancer. People with celiac disease have increased risk for cancer of the small bowel, colon, biliary tract, and other gastrointestinal cancers. If we view celiac disease as just one end of the spectrum of wheat-related gastrointestinal irritation, then these conditions like acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome that we might view as “celiac disease lite” may also heighten risk.

The Wheat Lobby and its friends in high places at the USDA, the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services, and other “official” providers of nutritional advice all agree: Replace white processed flour with whole grains, and incidence of cancer is reduced. That is indeed true. But the effects of NO grains is what is in question.

My prediction: “Healthy whole grains” will prove to be the #1 most substantial cause of gastrointestinal cancers from mouth to anus (oral, esophageal, gastric, small intestine, colon, rectal, pancreatic, biliary) and thereby the #1 most preventable cause of gastrointestinal cancers.

Colo-rectal cancers almost always start with a small growth called a polyp. If polyps DO develop, the earlier they are detected, the better: they can be removed before cancer develops.

To help reduce the risk of developing colon and rectal cancers, experts recommend the following:

Consume a diet high in fruits and vegetables. Cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts are especially beneficial.

Decrease the amount of red meat in your diet, and cut back on meats that are cooked at high temperatures — such as fried, grilled, and broiled meats.

Eat foods that contain folic acid. It is known to be essential in forming new cells and tissues as well as keeping red blood cells healthy. The most common sources of folic acid are citrus fruits and dark green leafy vegetables, especially spinach. It is best to obtain this vitamin through real food sources, because studies do not show any anti-cancer benefit from taking folic acid supplements (in fact, some studies suggest that taking folic acid supplements may slightly increase the risk of cancer).

Get enough calcium and Vitamin D. Recent studies have suggested that these two substances may reduce risk of colon cancer. Good sources of calcium include milk, cheese, yogurt, salmon, sardines, and dark-green leafy vegetables such as kale, mustard, and collard greens. Sources of vitamin D include salmon, sardines, egg yolks, and of course, sunshine.

Avoid constipation. In his article Two Simple Ideas for Preventing Colon Cancer, nutritionist Rudy Silva explains:

Polyps occur when your fecal matter is toxic and becomes stagnant. When your fecal matter stops moving in your colon, then toxic matter in the fecal matter comes in contact with your colon wall. It is this colon area that becomes irritated and over time weakens. As inflammation sets in and irritation continues, toxins are absorbed into the colon wall and a growth occurs. This growth will continue as long as you continue to have toxic fecal matter and constipation.

Silva goes on to recommend consumption of fruits and vegetables, and avoidance of processed, packaged, chemical-laden “foods.” Of course, drinking enough water is also helpful to alleviate constipation as well.

Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. If you choose to indulge, limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.

If you smoke, this is just one more reason to stop. For tips on how to quit, please see The Natural Path to Smoking Cessation.

Get moving – if you aren’t already exercising regularly, work on building it into your daily routine. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While creating and following a healthful lifestyle doesn’t guarantee you’ll never develop any ailments, doing things to reduce risk is always wise.

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on November 6th, 2014