Colorectal cancer awareness |03 March 2023
Colorectal cancer is on the rise in Seychelles but it is also a cause for concern globally. It is ranked as the third most common occurring cancer and second most common cause of cancer death worldwide. Ironically, despite the fact that screening and early detection can help save lives people don’t usually come forward until it is too late.
Many of us know someone living with cancer or who have lost their lives to this deadly disease. Although colorectal cancer awareness month is observed nationally throughout the month of March in America, following on from recent screening activities by the Ministry of Health in February, it is only fitting that we shed more light on this condition.
What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is a disease in which cells in the colon or rectum grow out of control. If we break down the term ‘colorectal’ you will find that ‘colo’ refers to the colon which is also known as the large intestine or large bowel while ‘rectal’ refers to the rectum which is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are grouped together because of their similar features.
Most colorectal cancers start with an abnormal growth in the lining of the wall of the colon or rectum, known as a polyp. It is worth mentioning that not all polyps turn into a cancer but depending on the type of polyp, some can become cancer over time, usually after many years.
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer
Colorectal cancer might not cause symptoms right away, but if it does, it may cause one or more of these symptoms:
vA change in bowel habits, such as diarrhoea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool, that lasts for more than a few days
vA feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that's not relieved by having one
vRectal bleeding with bright red blood
vBlood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
vCramping or abdominal (belly) pain
vWeakness and fatigue
vUnintended weight loss
Some of these symptoms may be caused by other conditions as well therefore the only way to know for sure whether or not you have colorectal cancer is to go to a doctor for further assessment. So please come forward to get help. The earlier you come, the better your outcome.
Risk factors for colorectal cancer
As with other forms of cancer there are modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors.
The non-modifiable risk factors are things that you cannot control and it includes:
- Becoming old
- Having a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- Having inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease
Then there are lifestyle factors that can be modified based on your behaviour and daily choices:
- A diet which is low in fibre but very high in fat
- High intake of processed meats and red meats
- Low intake of fruits and vegetables
- Lack of physical activity or too much sedentary activities
- Being overweight or obese
- Alcohol consumption
Lowering your risk of colorectal cancer
As mentioned earlier there are some risk factors which you do not have control over. But when it comes to lifestyle factors, today is the day that you should take stock of what you need to improve on to help lower your risk.
Eat more plant-based foods
Improving your intake of plant-based food such as vegetables, fruits, legumes such as beans and lentils, nuts, wholegrains like oats, corn, brown rice and local starches like breadfruit, cassava and sweet potatoes can lower your risk of colorectal cancer because they are high in dietary fibre.
Fibre adds bulk to your stool and makes it easier for waste products to be eliminated from your body. You should aim for around 30 grams of fibre every day.
Aside from fibre, fruits and vegetables are high in phytochemicals with many having antioxidant properties. This helps protect your cells from harmful chemicals which can cause damage.
Reduce your intake of processed meats and red meats
There is strong evidence that eating processed meats such as corned beef, luncheon meat, bacon, ham, salami and sausages and large amounts of red meats such as beef, lamb, pork, goat can increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
The best way to lower your risk therefore is to avoid processed meats and lower your intake of red meats to less than twice a week.
Become more active
You may lower your risk of colorectal cancer by engaging in regular moderate to intense physical activity and also by limiting the amount of time you spend sitting down or in other sedentary activities. So start to increase your daily physical activity until you’re able to do 30 minutes at least five times a week. Remember to choose activities that you enjoy and can stick with.
Reduce alcohol intake
Abstaining from alcohol may lower your risk of colorectal cancer. Therefore, those who do not consume alcohol should continue to abstain. For those who drink, try to limit your intake to no more than two units per day and try having some alcohol-free days during the week.
Importance of screening for colorectal cancer
Screenings are tests that look for cancer before signs and symptoms develop. These tests can increase the chance of detecting colorectal cancer when it is at an earlier, and potentially more manageable and treatable, stage.
If you are above the age of 45 years, with existing risk factors or if you have been experiencing some of the symptoms outlined above, please reach out to a health professional and find out more about existing screening tests.
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Please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how you’re doing with these ideas, or better still, let us know how we can help you.
Yours in health
The E4OH team