5 ways to reduce your risk of bowel cancer

April is Bowel Cancer Awareness month so we’re here to help you optimise your bowel health. In this second blog of our four-part series, we’re covering the main risk factors for developing bowel cancer and the steps you can take to reduce your risk today.

In over half of cases, bowel cancer is preventable1

As with lots of cancers, the causes of bowel cancer are complicated and not yet fully understood. However, there are certain risk factors that are known to increase your likelihood of developing bowel cancer. Making small changes to your lifestyle and diet can drastically reduce the chance of developing bowel cancer.

Here’s 5 ways you can reduce your risk of bowel cancer today:

1. Increase your fibre intake

High fibre diets support bowel health and could reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer. Try switching to wholegrain to boost your fibre intake and aim to eat at least 18g of fibre each day2. Foods that are high in fibre include brown rice, wheat and spelt – plus nuts, seeds and pulses.

2. Cut back on processed foods and red meat

There is strong evidence that a diet high in red and processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer. To reduce your risk, try switching a few meals of red meat (pork, lamb and beef) for white meat (chicken, turkey or fish). You can cut back on processed meats like ham, bacon, sausages by switching these for fibre-packed lentils or pulses3.

3. Quit smoking

Smoking is the single biggest cause of cancer in the world. This is down to the chemicals found in cigarettes, which enter the bloodstream through the lungs and cause damage to cells across the whole body4. Long term smokers have a significantly higher risk of bowel cancer compared to non-smokers – a risk which can be reversed over time by just quitting smoking.

4. Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese significantly increases your risk of developing bowel cancer. Obesity is the second biggest cause of cancer in the UK after smoking, and an estimated 11% of all cancers are caused by obesity5. Reduce your risk today by taking steps to lose excess body fat and making positive changes to your diet and exercise routine.

5. Avoid excessive alcohol consumption

An estimated 6% of all bowel cancer diagnoses in the UK are linked to alcohol consumption. To reduce your likelihood of developing bowel cancer, aim to keep two days alcohol-free each week and avoid consuming more than 14 units across the remaining five days6.

Whilst making lifestyle changes can decrease your risk, it is important to remember that not all cases of bowel cancer are linked to lifestyle. Other factors such as family history, concurring medical conditions and age can also influence your risk.  Understanding all of these bowel cancer risk factors can help you make healthy changes to your lifestyle and decide if private bowel cancer screening is right for you.

Find out more about the symptoms of bowel cancer and how you can get tested.

References 

1 https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/about-bowel-cancer/risk-factors/reducing-your-risk/

2 https://www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk/resources/patient-information/gi/increasing-the-amount-of-fibre-in-your-diet.pdf

3 https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/diet-and-cancer/does-eating-processed-and-red-meat-cause-cancer

4 https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/smoking-and-cancer

5 https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/bowel-cancer/risk-factors

6 https://www.bowelcanceruk.org.uk/about-bowel-cancer/risk-factors/reducing-your-risk/alcohol-and-smoking/