Colorectal cancer: identifying risks and preventive measures

Colorectal cancer, as the name suggests is indicative of tumor growth in the colon or rectum.

The colon and rectum are a part of the large intestine (see image below). When an abnormal growth or a polyp forms on the inner lining of the colon, it could become cancerous and spread to other sites within the body. Hence the need for early detection.

In Nigeria, colorectal cancer is estimated as the third most common cancer in men and the fourth most common cancer in women. Genetic and environmental factors have been associated with the disease with genetics accounting for about 35% of colorectal cases.

Environmental factors include:

  • chronic inflammation
  • tobacco smoking
  • alcohol consumption
  • westernized lifestyle (often characterised by high-calorie, high-meat, high-fat, low-fiber diet with low/no physical activity)

While genetics can not be modified, a healthy lifestyle can be adopted to prevent the growth of new or existing polyps. In addition to increased physical activity, the following can lower the risk of developing colorectal cancer:

  • fish and fish oil
  • dietary fiber particularly insoluble fibre such as whole grains, whole flax seeds
  • high vitamin D levels
  • high calcium intake
  • anti-inflammatory foods

When to go for screening?

Screening involves testing for pre-cancerous polyps or early stage cancer. It is advisable to get a screening at the age of 45 as risk increases substantially around this age.

Note: Prevention is key! Positive change starts with you.

 

For further reading:

Marley, A.R. and Nan, H (2016) Epidemiology of colorectal cancer. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5069274/#!po=9.21053

Project Pink Blue. Colorectal cancer. Available at https://projectpinkblue.org/colorectal-cancer/