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Junk Food Ups Colon Cancer Risk, But Most Americans Don't Know It
  • Posted February 26, 2024

Junk Food Ups Colon Cancer Risk, But Most Americans Don't Know It

Junk food increases people's risk of colon cancer, as well as alcohol, lack of exercise and obesity.

Unfortunately, many Americans don't know about these risk factors for colon cancer, a new survey has found.

Colon and rectal cancers have been rising in people under 50 for two decades, researchers said, meaning that many develop the cancer before screening colonoscopies are recommended.

"We know that screening colonoscopy saves lives by detecting the disease in its earliest and often precancerous state, but it's not recommended for a person of average risk before age 45 right now,"said researcher Dr. Matthew Kaladay, chief of colorectal surgery at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center.

That makes preventive lifestyle habits vitally important for younger adults.

Unfortunately, the survey of about 1,000 adults 18 or older revealed that:

  • Less than half (49%) know alcohol is a risk factor

  • Two in five (42%) are unaware that a lack of physical activity is a risk factor

  • More than a third don't recognize obesity (38%) or a high-fat, processed food American diet (37%) are risk factors

Four out of five people did know that family history is a risk factor for colon cancer.

Unfortunately, Black and Hispanic people -- the groups at highest risk -- had the highest lack of knowledge about lifestyle risk factors.

Black Americans are more likely to develop and die of colon cancer, and colon cancer cases are rising faster among Hispanic Americans than any other racial or ethnic group, according to the American Cancer Society.

"It's important for people to understand that many factors contribute to colorectal cancer risk, and it is never too late to make changes to help reduce risk where you have the power to do so,"Kaladay said.

Kaladay recommends that people eat a diet high in fiber, low in fat and red meat, with four to six servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

"Those changes won't just impact your cancer risk, they will likely improve your health overall,"Kaladay said.

"The more weight that you carry above your ideal weight puts you at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer, so taking some simple but important steps -- like a healthy diet and regular, moderate exercise -- go a long way for overall health,"Kalady added.

Kaladay also recommended that people get any symptoms checked right away, regardless of age. Symptoms can include rectal bleeding, sudden changes in bowel habits, unexplained weight loss and abdominal pain.

"People can do everything 'right' and still get cancer -- that's why it's so important that anyone having symptoms of colorectal cancer seek medical advice right away, regardless of age,"Kaladay said. "Early-stage cancer is highly treatable and often completely curable. The chance for cure goes down with advanced disease."

Conducted Feb. 2-4, the survey's margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about colon cancer.

SOURCE: Ohio State University, news release, Feb. 26, 2024

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