As women, we do our fair share to protect ourselves against cancer. We schedule annual mammograms, stay current with pap smears and HPV screenings, and we have our skin checked regularly by a dermatologist. It seems like we have all our bases covered, right?
Colon cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death among women in the United States, beating out cervical cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer. Estimates by the American Cancer Society showed that 47,000 women were expected to be diagnosed with colon cancer in 2015 and an additional 16,000 women were expected to be diagnosed with rectal cancer. This rate is only expected to increase with time. Researchers estimate that by the year 2030, the incidence rate of colon cancer in women between the ages of 20 and 34 will increase by 90 percent (Source: Women's Health).
These are sobering statistics, but they aren’t set in stone. Colon cancer is one of the most preventable types of cancer, which means the steps you take today can contribute towards a cancer-free tomorrow. Here are some steps that all women should take to lower their risk of colon cancer:
Eat a nutritious diet
A low-fat, high-fiber diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein is strongly linked to a reduced risk of colon cancer. Maintain a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of fresh produce, and try to avoid processed foods. You should also limit your intake of red meat and processed meat, which have been shown to increase colon cancer risk. Try to consume no more than three servings per week.
Make time for exercise
Physical activity lowers the risk of many diseases, and this includes colon cancer. Current CDC guidelines recommend that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity per week. Muscle strengthening activities should also be performed two or more days per week.
If you currently do not exercise and you’re worried about whether your body can handle a workout, start small. Take a 10 minute walk after each meal or find a seven minute workout on YouTube. Any exercise is better than no exercise at all, and you will quickly build stamina to perform longer workouts.
Smoking is a well-known risk factor for colon cancer, but research shows that women who smoke are particularly at risk for colon cancer. Women who have a history of smoking are almost 20 percent more likely to develop colon cancer than women who have never smoked. Even smoking 10 or fewer cigarettes per day can increase your risk (Source: WebMD).
Limit alcohol intake
Alcohol is closely linked with a higher risk of colon cancer. A meta-analysis of 57 cohort and case-controlled studies found that individuals who drank 50 or more grams of alcohol per day (approximately 3.5 drinks) were 1.5 times more likely to develop colon cancer than occasional drinkers and non-drinkers (National Cancer Institute).
The American Cancer Society recommends that women consume no more than one alcoholic drink per day. This recommendation is based on the fact that women have a smaller body size and they break down alcohol more slowly.
Schedule a colonoscopy
There are several screening tests for colon cancer, but the colonoscopy is the only test that can detect and prevent colon cancer in one procedure. Current guidelines recommend that adults of average risk receive a baseline colonoscopy at the age of 50. African Americans should begin screening at age 45 due increased disease risk.
Talk to your doctor about when to schedule your next colonoscopy screening. Then, use our Find A Center tool to locate a screening facility near you. If your exam goes well, you won’t need to repeat it for another 10 years.
Whether you’re a mother, daughter, sister, wife, aunt, or friend, you rely on your health to allow you to care for others. Don’t allow colon cancer to interfere with the relationships you value most. Start making changes today that will allow you to enjoy a vibrant future. Your health – and your loved ones – depend on it.