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12 Everyday Habits That Can Help Prevent Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is striking adults at increasingly younger ages. These foods, drugs, and lifestyle habits can protect against colon cancer.

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Colon cancer: Striking at younger ages

A study of nearly 260,000 colon cancer patients found that about 15 percent were younger than 50, the age that screening tests are typically first recommended for people at normal risk. Younger patients were more likely to be found to have advanced cancer. Colon cancer rates are rising as much as 2 percent yearly in younger adults (but declining in older adults). Physical inactivity and obesity are possible causes. If you have colon cancer risk factors (such as a family history), discuss with your doctor whether you should start screening before age 50. Follow these healthy lifestyle tips to prevent colon cancer, and never ignore these silent symptoms of colon cancer you might be missing.

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Sit less

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that sitting down for hours at a time is associated with a higher risk of back pain, heart disease, deep vein thrombosis, diabetes, and obesity. But did you know that the inactivity associated with sitting for long periods without a break is now also linked with an increased risk of a number of cancers, and that colon cancer is at the top of the list? Sitting for prolonged periods leads to a build-up of inflammation in the body. Canadian research suggests that chronic inflammation is a predisposing factor for developing colon cancer and a number of other cancers. If you work at a desk, make sure to stand up and take a short walk at least every hour—around the office, down the hallway, anywhere will do.

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Soak up some sun

The benefits of regular (but not excessive) exposure to sunshine extend to preventing colon cancer. It’s essential, of course, to avoid sunburn, but your body needs plenty of vitamin D, produced when the skin is exposed to the sun, to stay healthy and prevent colon and other cancers. A study of almost 13,000 adults found that low levels of vitamin D raised colon cancer risk by 31 percent. You need to expose limbs and face to sunshine on a regular basis, wearing an ordinary sunscreen lotion if you’re concerned about how to prevent cancer. This exposure can be for up to 30 minutes, depending on your skin tone, with darker skin able to be exposed for longest. Taking a vitamin D supplement, or eating oily fish and other vitamin D-rich foods could also be beneficial. Check out these other foods proven to help fight cancer.

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Consider double-dose aspirin

With growing evidence that aspirin can prevent cancer and possibly prevent it from spreading, some doctors advise that people at high risk of bowel cancer should take not just one dose per day—but two. People with a genetic link to bowel cancer have ten times the risk of developing it—and often do so at a young age. By taking two low-dose aspirin tablets a day, they can cut their risk by more than 60 percent. It’s a controversial therapy that risks causing a peptic ulcer or anemia from chronic minor bleeding in the digestive tract. But in some cases, doctors believe the risk is worth taking. If bowel cancer runs in your family, talk to your doctor about this approach when discussing how to prevent cancer.

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Switch to brown rice

The long-standing debate over whether high-fiber foods can help prevent colon cancer appears finally to have been resolved conclusively. Following a major review involving nearly two million people, scientists have shown that eating plenty of whole grains and cereals—particularly rice and oats—does indeed protect against these cancers. Put brown rice and oats on the menu as often as possible as an easy way to keep your bowels healthy. But you’ll want to avoid these foods cancer doctors try to never eat.

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Go for cancer-beating cabbage

A chemical produced when green vegetables such as cabbage are chopped, cooked, chewed, and digested has been shown to weaken cancer cells and prevent them from multiplying. The key chemical, known as sinigrin, is converted in the body to the anticancer substance allyl-isothiocyanate. But all you need to know is that eating your boiled greens really will help prevent cancer, including cancers of the digestive system.

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Fill up on (oily) fish

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential for good digestion, and one of the best sources is oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, and salmon. Colon cancer patients who eat at least 0.3 grams of omega-3s from oily fish a day (equating to about one serving a week) cut their mortality risk by 41 percent. The increased protection is dose-related: Eating more fish cut down the risk even more. Find out what oncologists do to prevent cancer themselves.

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Quit smoking already

Smoking increases your risk of colorectal cancer—and this adverse effect appears to be more long-lasting in women. Researchers have shown that women who have quit for up to ten years still have a raised risk of colorectal cancer from smoking—while the impact has disappeared in male ex-smokers. Remember that it’s important to mention your smoking history to your doctor when appropriate screening is being considered—and if you smoke, the sooner you give up the better.

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Make a cup of coffee

You can feel good about that morning cup of joe. A study of 9,200 adults found that drinking coffee could cut risk of colorectal cancer by 26 percent—and the more the better, it seems. People who drank more than 2.5 cups a day had the lowest risk of all. The protective factor was seen not only with filtered drip coffee, but also with decaf and espresso—it’s all good!

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Load up on vegetables

If you’re wondering how to prevent cancer, you might want to up your veggie intake. When we digest cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and kale, our bodies produce a substance called indole-3-carbinol (I3C) that could stop cancer in its tracks. I3C activates a protein that protects the body from inflammation in the gut, and a mouse study showed mice that ate an I3C-heavy diet had fewer and more benign tumors. A separate study found that glucosinolates, the compound that gives cruciferous vegetables their bitter flavor, also could offer protection against cancer cells. Make sure you know these other simple ways you can prevent cancer.

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Keep your weight in check

Maintaining a healthy weight could ward off colon cancer. A study of almost 3,000 over-40-year-olds found that those with a body mass index over 25 (i.e. who are overweight or obese) had a greater chance of having a colon polyp. The polyps themselves aren’t usually harmful, but they can eventually develop into cancer. Lose weight and cut your cancer risk by eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise.

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Get screened

You won’t want to skip your regular check-up if you’re wondering how to prevent cancer of the colon. Colorectal cancer screenings can catch polyps—the precursor to tumors—early, maybe even years before they develop into cancer. Doctors can then nip colon cancer in the bud by removing the polyps. The U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends regular screenings between ages 50 and 75; anyone between 76 and 85 should ask their doctor whether to continue.

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Cut back on the booze

Heavy drinking is one of the main risk factors for colon cancer; one study showed that having more than four standard drinks a day increased risk by 21 percent. There are probably several factors at play, but there’s evidence that bacteria in the gut turn alcohol into the carcinogen acetaldehyde. Limit yourself to a drink or two per day to keep those toxins from building up. Don’t miss these other science-backed ways to cut your risk of cancer.

Excerpted from the book Reader’s Digest Health Secrets.