• Prevent Bowel Cancer, Change Lifestyle

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    People with an average risk of colon cancer can consider screening beginning at age 50. But people with an increased risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer, should consider screening sooner. African-Americans and American Indians may consider beginning colon cancer screening at age 45.

    Several screening options exist — each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Talk about your options with your doctor, and together you can decide which tests are appropriate for you.

    Adoption of a combination of five key healthy behaviours is associated with a reduction in the risk of developing bowel cancer.

    Researchers from the German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbruecke quantified the impact of combined multiple healthy lifestyle behaviors on the risk of developing bowel cancer, and found that this impact is stronger in men than in women.

    Lead author, Krasimira Aleksandrova, says: “These data provide additional incentive to individuals, medical professionals and public health authorities to invest in healthy lifestyle initiatives. Each person can contribute a lot to avoid cancer, the more healthy lifestyle changes, the better.”

    Bowel cancer, also called colorectal cancer, is the second most common cancer in men and the third most common cancer in women worldwide, with 55% cases occurring in developed regions such as North America and Western Europe.

    Previous studies have identified links between the cancer frequency rates and western lifestyles. However, most research has focused on isolated lifestyle behaviours, such as eating red meat, while little is known about the combined impact of lifestyle factors beyond their individual effects.

    The research published in the open access journal BMC Medicine analysed the data of 347,237 men and women from 10 countries from the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) cohort study using a healthy lifestyle index. Over the 12-year study period, 3,759 cases of bowel cancer were recorded.

    The healthy lifestyle index was composed by the following lifestyle factors:

    • a healthy weight;
    • low abdominal fat;
    • participating in regular physical activity;
    • not smoking and limiting alcohol;
    • a diet high in fruits, vegetables, fish, yoghurt, nuts and seeds, and foods rich in fibre, and low amounts of red and processed meat.

    For each of the five behaviours, study subjects were assigned one point for having the healthy factor and zero for not having the healthy factor. These points were then summed to generate a cumulative score for each participant.

    Aleksandrova notes: “Our data confirmed that with an increasing number of healthy lifestyle behaviours the risk that a person will have of developing bowel cancer decreases.”

    According to Aleksandrova: “Estimates based on our study populations suggest that up to 22% of the cases in men and 11% of the cases in women would have been prevented if all five of the healthy lifestyle behaviours had been followed. Our results particularly demonstrate the potential for prevention in men who are at a higher risk of bowel cancer than women.”

    Although screening cannot stop you getting bowel cancer, it can allow the condition to be detected at an earlier stage, when it is much easier to treat. As well as making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of bowel cancer and keeping an eye out for possible symptoms of bowel cancer, participating in bowel cancer screening when it is offered can help reduce your chances of dying from bowel cancer. If you are very tired, you will need to balance activity with rest. It is OK to rest when you need to. Sometimes it's really hard for people to allow themselves to rest when they are used to working all day or taking care of a household, but this is not the time to push yourself too hard. Listen to your body and rest when you need to.

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