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Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK, and the second biggest cancer killer after lung cancer. Around one in eighteen of us will get bowel cancer at some point in our lives; the earlier that cancer is detected, the more effective the treatment – so greater awareness, screening and detection all play a vital part in achieving that objective.
What causes bowel cancer?
Bowel cancer is sometimes linked to a diet that is high in red meat (in particular processed, smoked meats such as ham, bacon, salami, sausages etc) and low in naturally occurring roughage. So to maintain a healthy gut and increase your chances of avoiding bowel cancer you should restrict your intake of red meat and eat plenty of whole cereals (brown bread, brown rice etc), fresh fruit and vegetables.
Sometimes bowel cancer is caused by the genes you inherit, so if someone in your immediate family has had bowel cancer – particularly if it occurred at a young age – then you should be screened regularly. Find out more about taking part in the GUTS screening programme.
Bowel cancer is most likely to occur when people are in their sixties and seventies so some time after your 60th birthday you will be invited to take part in the national screening programme – don’t ignore it! It’s estimated that if just 60% of those invited took part, then over a 10-year period the bowel cancer death rate would be cut by around 20%. As well as detecting actual cancers, screening reveals polyps that can potentially develop into cancer – these can be easily removed with a non-surgical procedure.
Who’s at risk?
It’s not known exactly what causes bowel cancer, but there are a number of things that can increase your risk, including:
AGE – almost 90% of bowel cancers occur in people aged 60 or over
DIET – a diet high in red and processed meat and low in fibre can increase risk
WEIGHT – bowel cancer is more common in those who are overweight or obese
INACTIVITY – being inactive increases your lifetime risk
ALCOHOL AND SMOKING – both may increase the risk of bowel cancer
FAMILY HISTORY – having an immediate relative (parent or sibling) who developed bowel cancer under the age of 50 puts you at a greater lifetime risk.
Obviously you can’t do anything about your age or family history but if you would like to know more about bowel cancer risk factors that you can control, download our ‘GUT INSTINCT’ booklet or or call the GUTS office on 01483 408316 to ask for a copy.