Cancer Research UK says that bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK. It is the fourth most common cancer in the UK in that 1 in 14 men and 1 in 19 women are diagnosed with bowel cancer. 4 out of 10 cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 75.
BUT, we don’t want to worry you! Early diagnosis leads to a much higher chance of survival, with 57% of people surviving bowel cancer for 10 years or more.
So what can we do?
First, knowing the symptoms of bowel cancer is important. This poster from Bowel Cancer UK makes it easy to understand and remember what to look out for. Don’t delay seeing your GP if you have any concerns as early diagnosis and treatment is key to having a better outcome.
Second, take part in screening.
- If you are between 60 and 75, you will automatically get a free screening test sent to you every two years. If you haven’t received this test, ask your GP.
- If you’re over 75, you won’t automatically get this, but you should request one since there is a greater chance of being diagnosed with bowel cancer the older you are. You may be offered screening tests at a younger age if you have a family history of bowel cancer, have ulcerative colitis or Crohns disease, or a genetic condition that increases your risk of getting bowel cancer.
- If you are under 60, and you are unable to get stool testing through your GP, you can still have a screening test done privately through your Nutritional Therapist.
What can we do if we already have bowel cancer?
You should already be under the care of your gastroenterologist and/or GP. They will help you to make informed choices about the options you have regarding your medical care. Macmillan Cancer Support may also help
Different stages of bowel cancer require different approaches and Nutritional Therapy and other complementary therapies may help to optimize wellbeing and quality of life before, during and after treatment, through individualized plans of care. Macmillan Cancer Support have a leaflet you can download after treatment ends
Take steps to deal with stress too as this can help with your overall wellbeing and ability to cope with the situations and circumstances. There are lots of information fact sheets on the Cancer.gov site.
The integrative cancer care charity, Yes to Life, also has some resources you may be able to use. Finally the information in the next section may also help with avoiding a recurrence.
What causes cancer?
Briefly cancer is caused by abnormalities in cell division that happen because our bodies are unable to find these abnormalities and/or correct them. These abnormalities usually occur over a lifetime and are likely to be due to a combination of genetic risks, damage to genetic material, toxic substances in the environment, diet and lifestyle factors. This means, for example, if there is a history of one type of cancer in your family, the chance of getting that cancer may be higher compared to someone who has no family history, but it does not mean that getting that cancer is inevitable.
How can we reduce our risk of cancer?
There isn’t much we can do about the genes that we are born with, but we may be able to provide our bodies with the best chance of finding and correcting any abnormalities that occur in our cells. The NHS lists some of things we can do to reduce the risk.
As everyone is different, the functional approach in Nutritional Therapy seeks to reduce the modifiable risks by looking at a person’s risk exposure in terms of rebalancing body functions, working to adjust lifestyle factors and optimizing diet.
Here are some general things I believe we can do in our everyday lives to decrease the impact of environmental and lifestyle damage to the cells in our gut:
- Increase dietary fibre intake to reduce constipation. Dietary fibre comes in soluble and insoluble forms. Soluble fibre can be found in grains like oats and barley, fruits such as bananas, pulses such as lentils and chickpeas, and seeds like flaxseeds. This helps to soften stools so that they can move along easily. Insoluble fibre is found in wholegrains, such as whole grain wheat and brown rice, vegetables and fruit with their skins on, nuts and seeds. This bulks up the stools which encourages the large intestine to contract and relax, thus helping the stools to pass through more easily.
- Drink water. Too much fibre and too little water can also cause constipation.
- Reduce consumption of red meat and animal proteins that are processed, barbequed or burned as these contain heterocyclic amines and nitrites that have been shown to be carcinogenic.
- Refrain from having high GI foods, which are basically refined carbohydrates, sugary drinks and potatoes and substitute instead with wholegrain foods, sweet potatoes, fruit to sweeten and water. A high GI diet has been found to cause changes in the P53 gene associated with colon cancer.
- Drink less alcohol. Alcohol has been found to increase the risk of many cancers and particularly bowel cancer.
- Obesity is also implicated in bowel cancer, as it is in other cancers, so losing weight sensibly is a good idea. Crash dieting creates stress in the body, which ultimately may have an adverse impact on health.
- Moderate exercise may also prevent bowel cancer by reducing constipation and inflammation.
Most importantly, enjoy life and make the most of each day. Somehow that also feels like a good way to reduce cancer risk!
Clarissa is a Registered Nutritional Therapist at Nolan Nutrition, www.nolannutrition.com and York Natural Health.