Bowel cancer is a general term for cancer that begins in the large bowel and depending on where the cancer starts, bowel cancer is sometimes called colon or rectal cancer. Cancer cells may stay in the bowel or they might spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver or lungs. Treatment will therefore vary and survival outcomes will depend on the stage of the bowel cancer so it is vital to recognise the warning signs.
- Bowel cancer symptoms: One major sign of the condition
According to the NHS, The three main symptoms of bowel cancer are:
- Persistent blood in your stools – that happens for no obvious reason or is associated with a change in bowel habit
- A persistent change in your bowel habit – which is usually having to go more and your stools may also become more runny
- Persistent lower abdominal (tummy) pain, bloating or discomfort – that’s always caused by eating and may be associated with loss of appetite or significant unintentional weight loss
Most people with these symptoms do not have bowel cancer; however, these symptoms should be taken more seriously as you get older and when they persist despite simple treatments, warns the NHS.
How to reduce the risk
Scientists believe around half 54 percent of all bowel cancers could be prevented by having a healthier lifestyle, and eating a healthy diet plays an essential role in risk reduction, according to Bowel Cancer UK.
Evidence suggests eating processed meat and a lot of red meat increases your risk of bowel cancer so to reduce your risk, limit how much red meat you eat and avoid processed meats as much as possible, advises the health site.
Foods high in fibre, on the other hand, form an important part of a healthy diet and are very important in reducing your risk of bowel cancer, says the charity.
Vegetables and fruits are good sources of fibre and also help to protect against bowel cancer because they contain antioxidants which help to delay or prevent cell damage, adds the health body.
Emphasising the importance of eating fibre-rich foods to reduce the risk, a report by the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) found that eating whole grains daily, such as brown rice or whole-wheat bread, reduces colon cancer risk, with the more you eat the lower the risk.
The report also warned that hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats consumed regularly increase the risk of colon cancer.
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”Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers, yet this report demonstrates there is a lot people can do to dramatically lower their risk,” said Edward L. Giovannucci, MD, ScD, lead author of the report and professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health.
The report evaluated the scientific research worldwide on how diet, weight and physical activity affect colorectal cancer risk.
The report analysed 99 studies, including data on 29 million people, of whom over a quarter of a million were diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
Other factors found to increase colorectal cancer include:
- Eating high amounts of red meat (above 500 grams cooked weight a week), such as beef or pork
- Being overweight or obese
- Consuming two or more daily alcoholic drinks (30 grams of alcohol), such as wine or beer
- Bowel cancer: The signs in your tummy to watch out for
The report concluded that eating approximately three servings (90 grams) of whole grains daily reduces the risk of colorectal cancer by 17 percent.
The results of the study also suggest people who are more physically active have a lower risk of colon cancer compared to those who do very little physical activity.
According to Bowel Cancer & Research, weight around the middle is a leading risk factor in developing bowel cancer and an increasing number of studies show that exercise can reduce bowel cancer risk.
The health body said: “The largest of these showed exercise could reduce the risk by up to a quarter (25 percent). When a healthy weight is also maintained, research has shown bowel cancer risk could be halved.”
It added: “In fact regular, vigorous exercise has been shown to have anti-cancer properties by stimulating the production of anti-cancer chemicals by the body, including IGF-1.”
What counts as vigorous exercise?
As the NHS explains, vigorous intensity activity makes you breathe hard and fast, and if you’re working at this level, you will not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath.
In general, 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity can give similar health benefits to 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity, notes the health body.
Most moderate activities can become vigorous if you increase your effort, it says.
Examples of vigorous activities:
- Jogging or running
- Swimming fast
- Riding a bike fast or on hills
- Walking up the stairs
- Sports, like football, rugby, netball and hockey
- Skipping rope
- Martial arts
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