Sometimes, it can feel like getting cancer is unavoidable. And it’s true that there are factors out of our control.
But what if there was a way to lower our chance of colorectal cancer – the second leading cause of cancer deaths?
“While there are lot of things you can’t prevent in life, our diet is one of the main ways we can have a big influence on the likelihood we will get colorectal cancer,” says Karl Langberg, MD, a gastroenterologist with Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health Institute.
So what foods should increase or lower your risk of colorectal cancer? Here’s what Dr. Langberg says.
Don’t eat this
When it comes to diet, there are certain foods to avoid or enjoy only in moderation, according to Dr. Langberg.
- Processed meats. “Anything cured, salted, or having undergone chemical preservation” is best to avoid, Langberg says. He adds that reducing consumption of red meat in general is advised.
- Speaking of meat – grilled meats. “That yummy char on the outside of your grilled meat can cause cancer,” Langberg says. Studies have linked the chemicals left on your food by coal or gasoline with certain cancers.
- Alcohol. Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption is associated with increased risks of cancers of the colon and rectum compared with no alcohol consumption. Langberg notes that even one to three drinks a day can increase risk.
Do eat (or drink) this
In general, the Mediterranean diet or a vegetarian or semi-vegetarian diet are healthiest for the colon, says Dr. Langberg. But these specific foods and drinks could all help prevent colorectal cancer:
- Coffee. “Coffee is full of antioxidants,” Langberg says. Studies have shown that drinking between one and four cups of coffee a day can reduce the chances of developing colorectal cancer by 26% and significantly lower risk of early death.
- High-fiber foods. A 2015 study suggested that “individuals consuming the highest intakes of dietary fiber have reduced risks of incident colorectal adenoma and distal colon cancer and that this effect of dietary fiber, particularly from cereals and fruit, may begin early in colorectal carcinogenesis,” according to the National Institutes of Health. Langberg says sweet potatoes, broccoli, nuts, beans and fruits including raspberries, pears and apples are all good choices.
- Calcium and dairy. Dairy products lower the risk of colon cancer by binding up bile acids produced by the body as well as other toxic chemicals in the digestive tract and then deactivating them, Langberg says.
But, the best preventive tool is a colonoscopy.
That said, Langberg stresses that the best way to lower your chances for having colorectal cancer is to have a colonoscopy. A colonoscopy is one of the few screening tests that can actually prevent colon cancer, he notes. By finding and taking colon polyps out before they become cancer, doctors can prevent their later development into cancer.
When caught early, colorectal cancer has a 90% survival rate.
“While it’s very important to do what we can to lower risk with diet, nothing is as effective as getting a colonoscopy.”