'Let's Get Moving' to reduce bowel cancer risk
Bowel problems, such as constipation and diarrhoea, are very common, and we tend to experience them more often as we get older.
It's reassuring to know, however, that while bowel problems can be
uncomfortable and sometimes distressing, they are usually not related to
Bowel problems can be caused by lifestyle factors, such as a
change in diet, or may be related to certain other, less serious
Nevertheless, experts advise us to be aware of our
normal bowel habits and seek medical advice if we have concerns about
Macmillan Cancer UK advises seeing your GP if you have:
- a change of bowel habit (diarrhoea or constipation) for more than two weeks;
- bleeding from the back passage;
- lasting abdominal pain/unusual lump;
- loss of weight or appetite;
- a feeling of not having emptied your bowel properly after a bowel motion.
Bowel cancer screening can save lives
Every year in the UK, more than 37,500 men and women are diagnosed with bowel cancer (also known as colorectal or colon cancer), most in the over-60 age group.
The good news is that, if diagnosed at the earliest stage, bowel cancer is highly treatable, says Bowel Cancer UK, the charity that organises Bowel Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM).
The national bowel cancer screening programmes set up in recent years aim to detect the disease as early as possible in people with no symptoms. Screening programmes are up and running in England, Scotland and Wales, and will be launched soon in Northern Ireland.
Regular bowel cancer screening has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from bowel cancer by 16 per cent, says Bowel Cancer UK.
Reducing risk through lifestyle changes
The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that 43 per cent of cases of bowel cancer in the UK could be prevented by healthy patterns of diet, physical activity and weight maintenance.
Lifestyle factors that play a key role in reducing our risk of bowel cancer include taking enough exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking and eating a high-fibre diet.
"Research suggests that the more physical activity a person does, the more likely they are to decrease their risk of bowel cancer," says the charity. "Exercise doesn't have to mean trudging down to the gym every day - dancing, a brisk walk or a gentle run are all fun and social ways of exercising."
Tips to reduce bowel cancer risk
To help keep your bowel working normally and reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer, nutritionist Sarah Schenker advises:
- drink plenty of fluids, especially water (about 2 litres a day);
- take enough regular exercise;
- eat a diet high in fibre, including at least five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables every day;
- limit your consumption of red and processed meat to a maximum of one portion (approximately 80g) per day;
- consume no more than 30g (men) or 20g (women) of saturated fats per day;
- high alcohol intake is believed to be linked to increased risk of bowel cancer, so keep alcohol consumption to the recommended guidelines (no more than 2-3 units per day for women; 3-4 units per day for men).
For further tips on diet and types of exercise that can help maintain a healthy digestive system, check out our other features this month.
Find out more
Bowel Cancer UK- www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk
Cancer Research UK - www.cancerhelp.org.uk
Macmillan Cancer UK - www.macmillan.org.uk
NHS (England) Bowel Cancer Screening Programme - www.cancerscreening.nhs.uk/bowel
Scottish Bowel Screening Programme - www.bowelscreening.scot.nhs.uk
Bowel Screening Wales - www.wales.nhs.uk/sites3/home.cfm?orgid=747
Bowel Screening Northern Ireland - www.cancerscreening.n-i.nhs.uk/bowel/toc.html
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