Reduce Your Risk of Bowel Cancer

Bowel cancer is one of the most common types to be diagnosed in the UK—here are seven ways you can reduce your risk.

Bowel cancer—also known as colorectal cancer—affects the large bowel, which is made up of the colon and the rectum. The symptoms of bowel cancer can be very subtle; in fact, somebody with bowel cancer may not feel ill at all. There are, however, a few indicators to be aware of such as:

  • Persistent blood in the stool
  • Persistent change in bowel habit—looser stools or having to go more frequently
  • Persistent lower abdominal pain—triggered by eating
  • Bloating and discomfort

According to Cancer Research UK, around 54 percent of bowel cancer cases are preventable. In light of this knowledge, Dear Doctor has produced a list of lifestyle changes to help reduce your risk of bowel cancer.

Easy on the meat

According to the NHS, ‘eating a lot of red and processed meat probably increases your risk of bowel (colorectal) cancer.’ Red meats include beef, lamb, veal, pork and goat, while processed meats include ham, pâté, salami, bacon, sausages and pepperoni. Limit your red meat consumption to 500 grams or less per week. Processed meats should only be eaten on occasion—this is due to their high salt and preservative content.

Go smoke-free

Lung cancer isn’t the only consequence of smoking. In fact, smoking causes 13 other types of cancer—including bowel. Chemicals from cigarettes enter into the bloodstream, affecting the entire body. If you wish to quit smoking, do so with professional support. There is a range of free services provided by the NHS, designed to help smokers quit for good. For more info, visit their website.

Watch your weight

Being overweight, obese or carrying a lot of weight around your waist can put you at risk of developing bowel cancer. Ensure that you consume a balanced diet filled with fruit and vegetables. Keep your portions controlled and measured, sticking to the national guidelines of daily calories (2,000 for women, 2,500 for men). Be sure to exercise regularly, fulfilling both aerobic and anaerobic exercises.

Know your family

It’s important to know your family’s medical history. According to The Guardian, in five to six percent of bowel cancer cases, there is a genetic predisposition. This percentage may seem small, but it is a factor worth considering. The two most common genetic conditions to be been linked to high risks of bowel cancer are

familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome.

Limit alcohol

You may be unwilling to go teetotal, but limiting your alcohol intake will help to reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Stick to the national guidelines: a maximum of 14 units per week. Try alcoholic alternatives as a way of cutting down or lean towards beverages with lower ABVs.

High-five to fibre

Consuming a diet right in fibre can significantly reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Fibre aids in digestion and helps food pass through the body more quickly. There are two main types of fibre: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre dissolves in water and forms a gel in the gut, making stools easier to pass; examples include oats, peas, beans and lentils. Insoluble fibre bulks up waste and helps it move through the gut; examples include whole grains, spelt, nuts and seeds. Aim to eat 30 grams of fibre a day to maintain a healthy bowel.

Get screened

There are two types of test for bowel cancer screening: bowel scope screening and home testing kits. The NHS offers bowel cancer screenings to individuals over the age of 55. If you’re aged between 60 and 74, you’ll be automatically invited to do a home test. If you are at all concerned that you may at high risk of bowel cancer, contact your doctor for advice.


The number of deaths from bowel cancer in the UK in 2016

Source: Cancer Research UK

Its a lifestyle choice

An estimated 54% of bowel cancers in the UK are linked to lifestyle factors including red and processed meat consumption (21%), overweight and obesity (13%), alcohol (12%), smoking (8%) and ionising radiation (2%)

Source: Cancer Research UK


The approximate number of new bowel cancer cases in the UK each year, that’s more than 110 every day.

Source: Cancer Research UK

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