Colorectal cancer, or colon cancer, is one of the three most common cancers in Singapore, with an average of five Singaporeans getting diagnosed with this illness daily. With its alarming prevalence, it is unsurprising that a large proportion of the population may be at risk.
The likelihood of developing colon cancer stems from risk factors. While there are a few inherent risk factors, such as genetics, you can still adopt certain healthy lifestyle habits to reduce your chances. Here are some risk factors to note as you assess your lifestyle and protect yourself against colon cancer.
Reversible risk factors
If you are overweight or obese, you may have excess visceral fat in your abdomen. This can pose a concern as visceral fat accumulates around important organs such as your stomach and colon. With more visceral fat, the metabolic and hormonal activities in your body may increase, increasing the risk of abnormal cell division or growth of obesity-related tumours.
Being overweight or obese also suggests low levels of activity. Staying at home during the pandemic may reduce your daily caloric output, it is best to include small pockets of exercise in your daily routine by walking around the house, stretching, or even home workouts. Exercising reduces your risk of colon cancer by maintaining a healthy percentage of body fat, regulating hormones, and encouraging healthy digestion in your body.
Your diet also affects your risk of developing colon cancer. A diet rich in red and processed meats has been classified as a carcinogen that increases one’s risk of uncontrolled cell division. Although the reason why red meat and processed meats increase the risk of colorectal cancer is unclear, harmful chemicals are said to be released when food is cooked at high temperatures and over a prolonged time.
Instead, a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will be able to reduce your risk of colon cancer. Increasing your intake of such foods while cutting down your consumption of deep-fried and sugary foods will help lower your risk of colon cancer.
Additionally, studies have shown that vitamin D deficiency can impact the risk of colon cancer. Without sufficient vitamin D, the risk of colon cancer increases up to 31%. You can increase your body’s vitamin D intake by consuming fatty fish such as salmon and spending more time outdoors in the sun.
3. Smoking and alcohol
While smoking has been largely related to lung cancer, it increases one’s general risk of developing cancer in general. Smoking tobacco releases carcinogens into one’s bloodstream, increasing the overall risk of developing other common cancers, including colon cancer and pancreatic cancer. For example, people who smoke also have higher chances of developing pancreatic cancer symptoms.
Other than smoking, alcohol can also increase one’s chances of developing colon cancer. Moderate to heavy alcohol consumption can elevate one’s risk of developing colon cancer by an average of 50%.
Irreversible risk factors
Needless to say, your body and immune system become weaker with age. Naturally, your risk of colorectal cancer also increases. Both men and women are at higher risk of developing colon cancer once they reach 50 years of age. At least 90% of colorectal cancer patients are of 50 years and above. However, it is also important to note that you are not completely risk-free if you are below this age.
2. Family history
If you have a close family member with colon cancer, your risk of contracting colon cancer is higher. 1 in 3 patients with colon cancer has at least one family member with colon cancer. The risk is even higher if your immediate family (parent, sibling or child) has a history of colon cancer. Take note if the diagnosis was when they were below 50 years of age or as this could increase the risk of you contracting cancer.
Family history is important as it reflects patterns in environmental factors, inherited gene sequences, or even a combination of these factors.
3. Personal history
If you have been diagnosed with adenomatous polyps or Crohn’s disease, you might be at a higher risk of developing colon cancer. Adenomatous polyps are usually harmless but may develop into malignant tumours.
While colon cancer treatment costs in Singapore are high, the cost to our physical health might be irreversible. By understanding the various risk factors, we can take the necessary steps to prevent the onset of colon cancer.
If you are at risk of developing colon cancer, consult a medical professional as soon as possible to prevent any further complications. The earlier the treatment is administered, the better the chances of recovery. Hence, it’s recommended to attend regular checkups to protect your health and overall well-being.