(StatePoint) It’s a topic that too many people are embarrassed to talk about — even with their doctors. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a chance for Americans to evaluate what steps they’re taking to prevent this deadly disease and keep their colons healthy.
While colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer, it is also the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States, striking more than 140,000 women and men each year, according to the American Society of Colon & Rectal Surgeons (ASCRS).
“People can sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about colon health,” says Dr. Vinod Bopaiah, a New York-based colorectal surgeon who speaks to audiences about reducing their risk of cancer through lifestyle changes. “But, as I tell my patients, don’t let yourself be embarrassed to death.”
Follow these suggestions from the ASCRS and Dr. Bopaiah to keep your colon healthy and reduce your risk of colorectal cancer:
* Eat between 25 to 30 grams of fiber each day. If you have cereal with 12-14 grams of fiber in the morning, a piece of fruit with every meal, and a large side plate of vegetables for lunch and dinner, this should meet your daily requirements.
* Eat a low-fat diet. One easy way to do this is to look for recipes that don’t require frying food. Grilling, steaming, or baking almost always reduces fat content, as do low-fat substitutions like skim milk and olive oil.
* Eat foods with folate, such as leafy green vegetables. Iceberg lettuce has little fiber, so stick to the more tasty greens like spinach, arugula, broccoli rabe and kale.
* If you use alcohol, drink only in moderation. Alcohol and tobacco in combination are linked to colorectal cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers. If you use tobacco, get started on a program to quit immediately.
* Exercise for at least 20 minutes three to four days each week. Moderate exercise such as walking, gardening, or climbing steps may help reduce your risk.
* Get regular colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 50. If you have a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, or a personal history of another cancer or inflammatory bowel disease, talk to your doctor about earlier screening.
With few overt symptoms, colorectal cancer can be a silent disease, but that doesn’t mean you should refrain from speaking about it, especially with your doctor. If you believe you may be at risk for colorectal cancer, consult a specialist today.