Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Exercise may be among best ways to help prevent colorectal cancer


In 2000, President Bill Clinton dedicated March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, in an effort to increase public awareness of the facts about colon cancer — a cancer that is preventable and treatable, and has a high survival rate.

Regular screening tests, expert medical care and a healthy lifestyle, which includes a proper diet and exercise, are essential for prevention. Several studies have demonstrated that exercise can also help prevent colon cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates that 136,830 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2014. Of these, 50,310 men and women will succumb to the disease. It is the second-leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths for men and women combined.

The good news: Incidence and mortality rates are dropping nationally and in Northeast Pennsylvania. The bad news: NEPA still has increased incidence and mortality rates compared with the national average.

Studies show that prevention of this disease is multifaceted. It includes engaging in daily exercise, eating a low-fat diet with little red meat, avoiding smoking, drinking in moderation and having regular colonoscopy screenings.

Early detection is the key to survival. Death from colorectal cancer can be eliminated if caught at the earliest signs of disease. Colorectal cancer progresses very slowly, usually over years. It often begins as noncancerous polyps in the lining of the colon. In some cases, these polyps can grow and become cancerous, often without any symptoms.

But some symptoms may develop: blood in the stool, changes in bowel movement, feeling bloated, unexplained weight loss, feeling tired easily, abdominal pain or cramps and vomiting. Contact your physician if you have any of these symptoms.

The risk increases with age, as 90 percent of those diagnosed are older than 50. A family history of colon cancer increases risk. Also, those with benign polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease are at greater risk and should be screened more frequently.

Here’s a look at some prevention keys:


Colonoscopy is the most accurate screening test for detecting polyps and colorectal cancer. A long, thin, flexible tube with a camera is used to visually examine the lining of the colon. Polyps can be removed at the time of the exam if necessary. Most people should have this test starting at age 50, although high-risk populations — those with genetic predisposition or inflammatory bowel disease — may begin at age 40 to 45, or even younger.

Diet and nutrition

Diets rich in fiber are generally considered beneficial for overall health, including colorectal health. Limit high-fat foods, especially from animal sources. Limit red meat and dairy. A diet consisting of fish, fruit and vegetables is valuable. Some researchers theorize that Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbage may trigger a chemical process to turn on a gene to suppress tumors. Sunlight and vitamin D are thought to be important, too.

Lifestyle and habits

Smoking and excessive alcohol use increase risk for colorectal and other forms of cancer. Stress and anxiety can be cancer triggers.


While there have been many studies about the benefits of exercise for colon cancer, none have been more encouraging than a recent study from the Hutchinson Cancer Institute in Seattle. Patients with abnormal cells on the lining of their colons, as found by colonoscopy, demonstrated positive changes and reversal of these cells after engaging in four hours of exercise per week for one year. Some studies have shown that exercise can reduce the risk of colon cancer by 50 percent.

How can exercise prevent colon cancer?

The intestine works like a sewage plant, recycling the food and liquid needed by your body. But it also stores waste before disposal. The longer the wastes remain idle in your colon or rectum, the more time toxins have to be absorbed from your waste into the surrounding tissues. Exercise gets your body moving, including your intestines. It stimulates muscular contraction, called peristalsis, to promote movement of waste through your colon.

Exercise to prevent colon cancer does not have to be extreme. A simple increase in daily activity for 15 minutes twice a day, or 30 minutes once a day, is adequate to improve the movement of waste through your colon. This can be simply accomplished by walking, swimming or biking, or playing golf, tennis or basketball.

For those interested in a more traditional exercise regimen, perform aerobic exercise for 30 to 45 minutes four to five days per week, with additional sports and activities the rest of the time. For those in poor physical condition, begin slowly. Start walking for five to 10 minutes two to three times per day. Then, add one to two minutes each week until you attain a 30- to 45-minute goal.

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