New Zealand has one of the highest rates of bowel cancer in the world. But did you know there are some things you can do to lower your risk of getting it?
If you have a family history of bowel cancer, or you are aged over 50 years, you have an increased chance of developing bowel cancer. But lifestyle factors can also play a part.
Bowel cancer is any cancer affecting the colon (large bowel or intestine) or rectum (bottom). Bowel cancer often starts as small, non-cancerous polyps that form on the walls of the large intestine and, over time, some of these polyps may become cancerous.
Here are our top tips for reducing your risk of developing bowel cancer:
Eat healthy food
Make sure you eat a healthy diet with lots of fibre. This means eating lots of vegetables, fruit and legumes (peas, lentils or dried beans). You should also make sure you eat lean meat, fish, poultry and dairy (reduced fat where possible). Cut back on refined sugar and limit how much red meat and processed meats (salami, ham, sausages and bacon) you eat. Read more about healthy eating.
Getting regular exercise can help reduce your risk of developing this type of cancer. Aim for 30 minutes of physical activity every day; it can be small things like taking the dog for a walk, vacuuming or something more intense like a run or playing sport. Being overweight also increases your chance of developing a wide range of long-term conditions. Read more about keeping active.
Smoking is bad for your health in general and increases your chance of developing a whole raft of cancers, including bowel cancer. So if you smoke, quit now! (Quit smoking section)
Cut back on alcohol
Drinking alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of bowel and other cancers so it pays to limit your drinking. It’s recommended that women have no more than two standard drinks a day and men no more than three standard drinks a day and that men and women have at least two alcohol-free days a week. Read more abut alcohol.
Report any symptoms early
Please see your GP if you have any change in bowel habit, blood in your stools (bowel motions) or general abdominal discomfort (frequent gas pains, bloating or cramps) that does not settle. Other symptoms to watch for are:
- unexplained weight loss
Although these symptoms are often caused by other conditions, it is important to check with a doctor without delay.
If offered testing, do it
Bowel cancer screening is available in some areas and is an effective way to detect any abnormalities before they become cancerous. If you are sent a testing kit in the post, follow the instructions and send it back for processing. This is a simple, yet effective test that can save lives. And remember, the earlier you detect bowel cancer, the easier it is to treat.