Around one in 20 people in the UK will be diagnosed with bowel cancer during their lifetime. This makes the disease one of the most common types of cancer in the UK. It is also one of the biggest cancer killers. There are some genetic factors attributed to the development of bowel cancer, which may be out of our control, but there are also lifestyle choices which could make you more susceptible to getting the disease. Dr Sean Preston, leading gastroenterologist at The London Digestive Centre at The Princess Grace Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK, lists five lifestyle factors which may increase the risk of developing bowel cancer.
Eating too much red/processed meat
Several studies suggest there is a link between bowel cancer and a diet rich in red and processed meat.
“To reduce the risk, my advice would be for people to significantly cut back on eating red/processed meats and animal fats – limiting consumption to one or two days a week at the very most,” said Dr Preston.
“This will not only reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer, but will also minimise the chances of developing several other cancers and heart disease.”
More than one in 20 cancer cases in the UK are linked to the patient being overweight or obese.
“Looking at bowel cancer specifically, there is evidence to suggest that the risk increases the more overweight a person is, and the more time they have spent in an overweight/obese weight category.”
Not exercising enough
“Leading a sedentary lifestyle, sat at a desk all day with limited physical activity, is known to be a key contributor to ill health and can increase the risk of several diseases – including bowel cancer.”
Dr Preston advises doing at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day, noting doing this could prevent around one in eight cases of bowel cancer.
“A simple way to incorporate some exercise into a daily routine is to go for a brisk lunchtime walk. Using the stairs instead of taking the lift is a small daily change which can have a positive impact on health and increasing physical activity.”
The risk of bowel cancer increases in line with the number of cigarettes smoked per day, as does the age someone starts smoking.
“Smokers are far more susceptible to bowel polyps (small growths on the bowel) than non-smokers, and these are considered to be the ‘gateway’ to cancer developing in the colon.”
Drinking too much alcohol
An estimated 11 per cent of bowel cancer cases per year in the UK are linked to alcohol habits.
“The frequent over-consumption of alcohol, or ‘binge drinking’ is another lifestyle factor which increases the risk of bowel cancer.
“I think the most important thing to note here, is that moderation is key. As a nation, it’s well known that we enjoy a tipple however, it’s so important not to overdo it.
“I would recommend that alcohol consumption is limited to no more than twice a week.
“It’s important to understand that making the above lifestyle alternations will not totally eliminate the threat of bowel cancer, however by implementing some simple changes and making sensible choices when it comes to health management everyone can minimise the risk they face.”