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Expert advice on 3 ways to lower your colorectal cancer risk 

March 05, 2024

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Dr. Puja Berry, of WellSpan Surgical Specialists, offers three ways to reduce your colorectal cancer risk.

Dr. Puja Berry, of WellSpan Surgical Specialists, offers three ways to reduce your colorectal cancer risk.

Many people do not know this, but our lifestyle choices have a direct impact on our risk of developing colon or rectal cancer. While some colorectal cancers are related to genetics, most are sporadic, meaning they happen in a person in a non-hereditary fashion. 

March is Colorectal Cancer Month, a time when we focus attention on the third most common cancer for both men and women. Colon and rectal cancers happen in a part of the gastrointestinal system known as the colon, or large intestine. Rectal cancers occur in one of the farthest parts of the gastrointestinal system, the last 6 inches or so.  

The best way to detect colorectal cancer is through a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is an outpatient, low-risk procedure where a physician inserts a camera on a long flexible tube into the colon. The physician then evaluates the entire colon in a 360-degree fashion. This test is recommended starting at age 45, but could start younger for some patients. Discuss the test with your provider to get the best advice.

The interesting thing about a colonoscopy is that this is the only way physicians can prevent colon cancers. How does this happen? If a polyp is detected, physicians remove it through various techniques, and this immediately reduces cancer risk.    

But what can YOU do to help yourself? Here are three key lifestyle choices that can directly reduce your risk, from Dr. Puja Berry of WellSpan Surgical Specialists.    

  • Maintain a healthy body weight.  

We know that obesity is linked not only to developing colorectal cancer but can also increase your risk of cancer spreading if you already have it. What does this mean? Maintaining a healthy weight will greatly reduce your risk of malignancy. A healthy, active lifestyle, with at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise a day, can help accomplish this goal.  

  • Reduce alcohol intake and eliminate tobacco.  

Alcohol consumption and smoking are also great ways to modify your risk. Alcohol consumption should be limited to 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women. Do not use any tobacco products of smoke cigarettes.  

  • Eat a healthy, plant-based diet that is low in red meat.  

Diets that are high in whole grains, plants, and fiber lower your risk of colorectal cancer. Calcium and dairy have been shown in some studies to decrease your risk as well.  Any processed meat or red meats increase risk of colon cancer. Eating even a small number of processed meats, such as deli meats, once a week, increases the risk so it is best to try to eliminate these as much as possible. Lastly, processed foods overall – foods high in sugar or sugar substitutes frozen meals or microwave meals - increase your risk and make it more likely for the cancer to present at a later stage if you do develop colorectal cancer.