#3 How to be a better patient – preventing colorectal cancer

According to UK statistics, 1 in 15 UK males and 1 in 18 UK females will be diagnosed with bowel cancer (i.e. colorectal cancer) in their lifetime. Sources from Cancer Research UK estimate that 54% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are preventable. They break this number down as follows:

  • 13% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are caused by eating processed meat.
  • 11% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are caused by overweight and obesity.
  • 6% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are caused by alcohol drinking.
  • 7% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are caused by smoking.
  • 2% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are caused by ionising radiation.
  • 5% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are caused by too little physical activity.
  • 28% of bowel cancer cases in the UK are caused by eating too little fibre.

These numbers are likely to be population specific, meaning that the exact numbers might be different for the people living in your region. Regardless of the specific regional differences, this list immediately shows what you could do to reduce your chances of getting bowel cancer. A Danish cohort study, suggested that one could reduce the risk of getting bowel cancer by 23% if the study population followed the following 5 lifestyle recommendations:

  • Physical activity: ≥30 minutes of moderate activity
  • Maintaining a limited waist circumference: ≤88 and ≤102 cm for women and men
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol: ≤7 and ≤14 drinks/week for women and men
  • Diet: eating plenty of fruit, vegetables and fibers, while limiting red and processed meat

The somewhat annoying thing surrounding this issue is that most people are aware of these lifestyle recommendations. However, often it’s too hard to get started or to maintain these healthy habits. Overturning your bad habits and substituting it with good habits doesn’t happen overnight. I’d suggest that you don’t compare yourself to others, simply start small and strive to be 1% better than yesterday. This concept has been popularised by author James Clear, check out his book “Atomic Habits“. It’s never too late to get started.

Image credits: James Clear

Featured image credits: Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

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