"Bowel cancer, also called colorectal cancer or colon cancer, includes cancer of your large bowel and cancer of your back passage (rectal cancer)," says Dr Paul Zollinger-Read, chief medical officer for Bupa.
Most bowel cancers affect people aged 65 or older, but as charity Beating Bowel Cancer reveals, the cancer is a slow grower - it can develop over a period of up to 10 years, and then begins to spread and affect other areas of your body.
“Most bowel cancers are in the large bowel," says Dr Zollinger-Read, "and about 1 in 3 in the back passage. It’s most common in older people - more than eight out of 10 bowel cancers are diagnosed in people aged 60 or over. In many cases, it’s hard to know the exact cause but there are some things that put you more at risk.
“If you have a strong family history of bowel cancer, you’re more at risk of developing the disease. About one in 20 bowel cancers are caused by inherited conditions If someone in your family, and especially if a few people on the same side, have been diagnosed with bowel cancer, speak to your GP. They may refer you to a specialist genetics service."
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Researchers from Britain and the Netherlands found that the more total dietary fiber and cereal fiber people consumed, the lower their colorectal cancer risk. For example, people who consumed an extra 90 grams of whole grains a day also had a 20 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer, according to the British Medical Journal review. However, that same study didn't show a link between eating fiber from fruits and vegetables and a lowered colorectal cancer risk, meaning there may be something else in whole grains at work, too.
Researchers from the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that people who take aspirin once a day have a 30 percent decreased risk of dying from colorectal cancer, if taken for at least a nine-month period. And, the benefit extended to after a person had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The researchers found that people who had already been diagnosed and who took aspirin had a 23 percent decreased risk of dying from the disease, compared with people who didn't take it at all.
The Daily Mail reported on a study in mice, published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, showing that rats exposed to a carcinogen developed fewer colon cancer lesions than rats if they consumed high-cocoa diets. "Being exposed to different poisons in the diet like toxins, mutagens and procarcinogens, the intestinal mucus is very susceptible to pathologies," study researcher Maria Angeles Martin Arribas, a researcher at the Institute of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition, said in a statement. "Foods like cocoa, which is rich in polyphenols, seems to play an important role in protecting against disease." However, it's important to note that this effect was tested only on mice.
Research published in the journal Cancer Prevention Research showed that taking 2 grams of ginger root supplement every day might have colon cancer-preventing powers. The researchers from the University of Michigan Medical School found that taking ginger root supplements helped to minimize signs of inflammation of the colon, which has been connected to colon cancer.
A study from the University of Texas Health Science Center showed that doctors who conduct colonoscopies while listening to Mozart are more likely to find polyps, which can lead to colon cancer, ABC News reported. The study showed that polyp-detection increased to 36.7 percent from 27.16 percent when the doctors listened to Mozart.
A study in the journal Cancer Causes & Control showed that people who exercise or play sports five or more times a week can lower their risk of developing colorectal cancer, compared with those who don't exercise regularly (or at all), Johns Hopkins University reported. Why exercise might reduce colon cancer risk isn't well understood. It may be because exercise enhances the immune system or because it reduces levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factors, all of which have been associated with colon cancer risk.
A number of studies have linked the consumption of cruciferous vegetables with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, Oregon State University reported, though the effect may depend on a person's genetic risk. In particular, a study published in 2000 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, showed that people who ate the most cruciferous veggies in a day (about 58 grams per day, on average) had a lower risk of colon cancer compared with people who ate the fewest cruciferous veggies in a day (about 11 grams per day, on average), Oregon State University reported.
A study in mice showed that compounds called anthocyanins, found in black raspberries, seem to have powers at anti-colorectal cancer powers, MyHealthNewsDaily reported. The berries may help to prevent cancer because of their "high antioxidant activity," study researcher Gary Stoner, of the College of Medicine at Ohio State University, told MyHealthNewsDaily; those antioxidants work to fight against DNA-damaging free radicals in the body.
The Doctors and USA Weekend share tips for reducing your risk of colorectal cancer.
Most bowel cancers start as benign innocent growths – called polyps – on the wall of the bowel, says Beating Bowel Cancer.
"Polyps are like small spots or cherries on stalks and most do not produce symptoms. Polyps are common as we get older and most polyps are not pre-cancerous. One type of polyp called an adenoma can, however, become cancerous (malignant). If left undetected the cancer cells will multiply to form a tumour in the bowel, causing pain, bleeding and other symptoms."
Who is at risk?
“Other bowel conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, can increase your risk of bowel cancer," says Dr Zollinger-Read. "If you have diabetes, you’re also at an increased risk of bowel cancer, although scientists currently aren’t exactly sure why this is.
“A poor diet, rich in red meat, processed food and fat, and low in fibre and calcium, also increases your risk of bowel cancer, as well as being obesity, smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. The best way to reduce your risk of bowel cancer is to limit the amount of red meat, processed meat and fat in your diet. Focus on a diet rich in fruit and veg and high in fibre, and exercise regularly."
The good news is that your gut can be fortified with good nutrition. Nutritionist at The Food DoctorAlice Mackintosh says:
"Rates of bowel cancer in the UK have risen over the last 30 years and whilst it is undisputable that many factors could have contributed to this, the role of diet is being considered as significant in the onset and development of the disease.
"Much research demonstrates the protective nature of fibre, which ensures the digestive tract is kept motile and prevents toxic matter such as bile acids from accumulating that can potentially damage the cells on the intestinal wall. 5-10 portions of fruit and vegetables (predominantly veg) and wholegrains such as brown rice, oats, quinoa, rye bread and beans and pulses should help ensure adequate levels in the diet.
"The right types of fat also appear to have some involvement in the prevention of bowel cancer, largely because they discourage inflammatory reaction that can cause cells to mutate in the wrong way. Cutting out saturated fats in meat, dairy, confectionery and processed foods such as margarine, cakes, ready meals and takeaways is also recommended. Replace instead with fats from flaxseed, avocado, unrefined extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, seeds, nuts and oily fish."
Alice also recommends turmeric, rosemary, garlic and ginger. "Turmeric is at the forefront, being incredibly rich in protective antioxidants," she says, "and also having the ability to inhibit inflammatory reactions controlled by COX and LOX mediators. Ginger, garlic and rosemary also perform similarly, and have been found to help promote healthy gut environments that are not conducive with the development of intestinal cancers."
BOWEL CANCER: SYMPTOMS
- Blood in your stools (faeces) or bleeding from your rectum
- A change to your normal bowel habits that persists for more than three weeks, such as diarrhoea, constipation or passing stools more frequently than usual
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
For more information on bowel cancer, visit the Beating Bowel Cancer website here.