Health Column: Minimize colon cancer risk

The most comprehensive and authoritative report on colorectal cancer risk ever published has concluded that Americans can lower their risk of colorectal cancer by eating plenty of foods containing fiber, choosing small amounts of red meat, avoiding processed meat, staying a healthy weight and being physically active.

Based on the findings, the American Institute for Cancer Research estimates that Americans can prevent approximately 64,000 cases of colorectal cancer every year by following healthy lifestyle recommendations.

The report issued by the World Cancer Research Fund and the institute is an update to the organizations’ joint 2007 report on links between colorectal cancer risk and diet, physical activity and weight.

There’s now convincing evidence that foods containing dietary fiber reduce colorectal cancer risk. The expert panel upgraded the conclusion that foods containing fiber are protective from “probable” to “convincing.”

The panel concluded that there is convincing evidence that both red and processed meat increase colorectal cancer risk. Ounce for ounce, the link was much stronger for processed meat than for red meat.

The report found that higher overall levels of physical activity are convincingly linked to decreasing the risk of colon cancer; no conclusion was drawn for rectal cancer.

The latest study added to convincing evidence that excess body fat increases the risk of colorectal cancer. Abdominal fat needs to be avoided by both sexes and there’s definite evidence that alcohol use increases the risk in men and probably increases the risk for women as well.

Based on the new report, there are three general steps Americans can take to prevent colorectal cancer: Eat smart, move more and stay lean.

• Practice prevention with a healthy plate filled with foods that contain fiber — whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruits. Minimally processed plant foods maintain their natural fiber.

• Aim to eat less than 18 ounces of cooked red meat per week. A typical fast food hamburger is about 2 ounces. Save processed meat for a few special occasions.

• If you drink alcohol, women should consume no more than one standard drink daily and men, no more than two.

• Step up with physical activity with at least 30 minutes of walking or other moderate activity daily, then step it up to 60 minutes and find ways to incorporate movement into your day.

• Adopt habits that support maintenance of healthy weight.

This column is provided by the American Institute for Cancer Research, which conducts research into the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk.