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 Colorectal Health & Nutrition

Together, cancers of the colon and rectum (often referred to as "colorectal cancer") are among the most common cancers in the United States. So many things seem to cause it. So many people seem to get it. So many factors are thought to come into play in determining who gets colorectal cancer and who doesn’t, that it’s hard to choose one as the most important. Many people fear that cancer is practically inevitable. But we now know that 65% to 85% of cancers could be prevented through diet and lifestyle changes. And more cancers could be successfully treated if they were detected early. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death but, if detected and treated at its early stages, is 95% curable.

Health & Nutrition
According to the National Cancer Institute, about one-third of all cancer deaths are related to malnutrition. For cancer patients, optimal nutrition is important. Cancer can deplete your body's nutrients and cause weight loss. Cancer and cancer treatment can also have a negative effect on your appetite, and your body's ability to digest foods. These factors may leave you in a vulnerable condition - high nutrient need, and low nutrient intake.

Colorectal cancers are linked to diets that are high in fat and calories; so a diet that is low in fat and red meat and high in calcium and folate may contribute to preventing colorectal cancer, and although the latest research shows that the benefits of fiber are questionable, a diet rich in fruits and vegetables with a high fiber content would be beneficial in many ways, particularly if you have a family history of colorectal cancer.

The Benefits of Water
Something as simple as drinking a decent amount of water while maintaining an active lifestyle appears to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer in men. These findings add to the evidence that leisure-time activity may reduce colon-cancer risk, not only in high-risk but also in low-risk populations, and support the potential beneficial effect of increased water intake in reducing colorectal cancer risk.

Those men who consumed the most water had a 92% lower risk of rectal cancer than those who drank the least water. What's more, those men with the most active lifestyles had 83% lower risk of colon cancer compared to men with sedentary lifestyles.

The study could not determine why water intake or physical activity decreased the cancer risk. However, one hypothesis is that exercise stimulates the colon and decreases the period of time that potential carcinogens in partially digested food are in contact with the intestinal lining. Similarly, increased water intake may be an important factor in reducing colon cancer risk by decreasing bowel transit time or by decreasing the concentration of carcinogenic compounds in the water phase. (Tang R, Wang JY, Lo SK, Hsieh LL. Physical activity, water intake, and risk of colorectal cancer in Taiwan: a hospital-based case-control study. Int J Cancer 1999;82:484-489.)

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Fiber reduces the risk of colorectal cancer right?
A recent study says no. Over the past two decades, reports have linked a high daily consumption of dietary fiber to reduced risk of cancers of the colon, rectum, and other gastrointestinal sites. However, a Boston team notes that other studies of dietary fiber produced conflicting results. Many of these studies did not permit a clear distinction to be made between the effects of fiber and those of other constituents of plant foods. In one of the largest and longest prospective studies of its kind to date, the investigators followed the 16-year dietary and medical histories of nearly 89,000 women as part of the ongoing Nurses' Health Study.

Results: After adjustment for age, established risk factors, and total energy intake, we found no association between the intake of dietary fiber and the risk of colorectal cancer; the relative risk for the highest as compared with the lowest quintile group with respect to fiber intake was 0.95 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.73 to 1.25). No protective effect of dietary fiber was observed when we omitted adjustment for total energy intake, when events during the first six years of follow-up were excluded, or when we excluded women who altered their fiber intake during the follow-up period. No significant association between fiber intake and the risk of colorectal adenoma was found.

Conclusions Our data do not support the existence of an important protective effect of dietary fiber against colorectal cancer or adenoma.

The New England Journal of Medicine January 21,1999;340:169-176, 223-224

Diet and exercise are only part of your health program, especially for those with a family history of colorectal cancer; but they can be useful weapons, along with regular screening, in your fight to keep colorectal cancer away.

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This information is not intended to take the place of your discussion with your surgeon about your need for colon surgery. If you have questions about your need for a colon operation, your alternatives, the cost of the procedure, billing or insurance, or your surgeon's training and experience, do not hesitate to ask your surgeon or his/her office staff about it. If you have questions about the operation or subsequent follow-up, please discuss them with your surgeon before or after the operation. Terms of Use