Four simple and effective ways to reduce colorectal cancer risk

A 3D illustration of colorectal cancer. Photo: Shutterstock

Good news: preventing colorectal cancer – one of the most common and deadly cancers in Hong Kong – is simpler than you might think. Bad news: the number of cases of colorectal cancer is on the rise.

Cases have been increasing over the past three decades, according to the Department of Health, to overtake lung cancer and became the most common cancer in Hong Kong in 2011, 2013 and 2014. In 2014, there were 4,979 newly diagnosed colorectal cancer cases, accounting for 16.8 per cent of all new cancer cases.

Colorectal cancer was the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Hong Kong in 2015, which resulted in a total of 2,073 registered deaths and accounted for 14.5 per cent of all cancer deaths.

Colorectal cancer does not discriminate, and even seemingly healthy people can develop the disease. Major risk factors include obesity, lack of physical activity, frequent and high consumption of red and processed meat, low intake of dietary fibre, alcohol use, and smoking. Making minor changes in your diet and daily life and implementing a healthy lifestyle can prevent or reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Don’t eat too much processed or red meat. Photo: Alamy

1. Limit consumption of red and processed meats

Studies have identified carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) not only in processed meat, but also in a diet that is rich in red meat such as beef, pork, lamb and veal. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified processed meat as a carcinogen and red meat as a probable carcinogen (something that probably causes cancer). Processed meats may be smoked, cured, salted, or made with nitrites, all of which may raise the amount of carcinogens in the body.

Carcinogens are also produced when red meat is burned during the cooking process. Consider alternative sources of protein such as poultry, low-fat dairy products, legumes, and fish. Limit the total amount of red meat you eat in a week to no more than 500 grams and opt for healthy alternatives such as chicken, fish, beans, lentils, eggs, nuts, seeds and nut butters. Minimise consumption of all processed meats, even those such as nitrite-free bacon and turkey hot dogs.

2. Get lean

Excess body fat, especially around the abdomen, causes several metabolic changes that create an environment in the body conducive to cancer growth and development. According to a meta-analysis by researchers in the Department of Surgery of two different hospitals in Shanghai, people who are obese are about 30 per cent more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those of normal weight. Being overweight or obese can cause insulin resistance, leading to higher insulin levels…