Did you know that March is colon/colorectal cancer (CRC) awareness month? No? Well now you do. According to Colon Cancer Canada, colon cancer is the second leading cause of both male and female cancer-related deaths in Canada. In 2014, an estimated 24,400 Canadians were diagnosed with colon cancer. Surprisingly, colon cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer. If caught early, over 90% of these cases could and should result in a full recovery.
The key is catching it early through testing or colorectal screening. Tragically, almost half of those diagnosed with colon cancer die because they find out too late once the cancer has moved onto other organ systems like the liver.
What are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?
There’s no getting around it, you can’t be empowered to take control of your health and make an informed decision without knowing the facts. You are your own BEST advocate; non-medical screening starts with you – you know your body best so it all begins with you. Have I made myself clear?
Start thinking about it today!
- Blood in or on the stool (either bright red or very dark in colour)
- A persistent change in normal bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation or both, for no apparent reason
- Frequent or constant cramps if they last for more than a few days
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- General stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness and/or cramps)
- Frequent gas pains
- A strong and continuing need to move your bowels, but with little stool
- A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
- Weight loss for no known reason
- Constant tiredness
Risk factors for colorectal cancer
There is no “single cause” for developing CRC, but there some people who are considered to be at higher risk than the general population for CRC include:
- People with a family history of CRC. If you have a first degree relative (parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent) with CRC, you should get tested 10 years before his/her age of diagnosis. If he/she was diagnosed at 48, you should be tested when you are 38 years old.
- People who have already been diagnosed with polyps or early stage CRC.
- People who have inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease).
- People with a family history of inherited breast cancer, uterine or ovarian cancer.
- Middle-aged people, 50 years and over.
- Overweight or obese
- Inactivity/sedentary/lack of activity and exercise
If you are at higher risk, you should talk to your doctor about being screened as soon as possible.
What about diet?
There are some nutritional & diet related risk factors for CRC. You’ll often read things like ‘diets high in calories and/or fat’ etc but this is really code for diets with a lot of highly processed foods that tend to have a lot of added refined fats and sugars (while being low in fiber, vitamins, minerals and other protective compounds) but this is not to be confused with healthy foods that are higher in calories because of their fat content like coconut, nuts, seeds, avocados or similar.
Processed meats, because of the preservatives that keep listeria and other bugs away, have been suggestive of increasing the risk for CRC. The preservatives might be toxic to the cells of the digestive tract if consumed in large amounts; yes, it’s all about moderation but that can’t be quantified but we have some ballpark estimates. Same thing with red meat. We can’t put a hard number on it but looking at the best research, experts in the field suggest keeping red meat to 300 g or 11 oz per week.
For reference, a computer mouse is the size of about 4 oz.
Keep in mind that these are estimates, I don’t want anyone to think that if they eat an 8 oz steak they’re hurting themselves. One thing is for sure, if you’re consuming a lot of one food, it displaces other foods so it may be that those who eat a lot of red meat are eating less fish, chicken, eggs, lentils, chickpeas, dried peas & beans and fruits & vegetables which are associated with lower rates of CRC. You can only eat so much; switching up your meats and reducing serving sizes a bit will allow you to include other foods; variety is key in general. The greater the variety of foods, the greater the variety of nutrients you’ll consume.
Vitamin D is a nutrient of interest where CRC is concerned; the bulk of research is strongly supportive of achieving and maintaining a healthy vitamin D concentration somewhere between 100 to 130 nmol give or take (some experts say even higher). How much vitamin D to take is highly individualized since everyone responds differently to the same dose. The right answer is, ‘take whatever amount of vitamin D is needed to reach the vitamin D concentration target you’re going for’ – this is where a health practitioner can help by monitoring your vitamin D level for a given dose and adjust as needed.
Awareness months, like March’s colon cancer awareness month, is not a gloomy topic. Being informed, staying on top of your health and increasing your awareness is a good news story; there’s more you can do than you might realize when it comes to living long and living well.
“there’s always a reason for improving your health”