Changing lifestyle and diets have led to an increase in the incidence of colorectal cancers. Here's how you can avoid it.

Rakesh Sharma has finally returned to work after three traumatic years. Having been diagnosed with colorectal cancer (CRC), he has undergone four surgeries and numerous chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions. Despite the diagnosis coming at an advanced stage, Sharma was lucky to get back to normal life.

CRC is the third most common cancer in men and the second in women worldwide. Fortunately, the rates in India are much lower than in Western countries. This is largely predominantly due to the dietary differences. Constant use of red meat, low fibre diet and fast foods are among the leading causes of CRC.

What happens?

A malignant tumour develops on the inner wall of the large intestine, mostly from polyps. Polyps are the benign tumours (not dangerous to health) of large intestine and can be removed during colonoscopy.

But if not removed, polyps can turn malignant over time. Colon polyps and early cancer present no specific symptoms initially. However, some symptoms should act as a warning to see the doctor.

Diagnosis can be done by sigmoidoscopy (visual examination of the lower third of the colon). If only the outer layer of bowel wall is affected, surgery remains the best treatment.

This involves removal of tumour, a small fringe of the healthy large intestine and adjacent lymph nodes. If the cancer is in an advanced stage and has invaded adjacent tissues and organs, then the chances of five-year survival are less than 10 per cent even after treatment.

Modify lifestyle

As with most other cancers, behavioural and dietary factors are the main causes apart from heredity. In the case of CRCs, about six per cent are caused by mutated genes while lifestyle and dietary factors are responsible for over two-thirds of the cases. Thus, working on the modifiable risk factors helps reduce the incidence of CRCs to a great extent.

The rate of CRC in India has risen during the last three decades probably because of changing lifestyle and dietary habits. Since colon polyps and early cancer have no symptoms, regular screening is important especially in people with a family history.

Delayed diagnosis is leading to many cases presenting in advanced stages. Although surgery is the mainstay of treatment, radiotherapy and chemotherapy play a vital role particularly in advanced cases.

New modalities in diagnosis and treatment have brought a significant improvement in survival rates.

Symptoms

Change in bowel habits

Dark red blood in stools

Recurrent episodes of abdominal pain, fever and chills with profuse diarrhoea

Fatigue due to loss of blood and anaemia

Chronic weight loss, cramps and bloating

Severe constipation and pain while passing stools

Do...

Maintain ideal body weight and body mass index (BMI)

Include lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet

Exercise regularly

Quit smoking

Avoid refined foods rich in calorie and fat

Don’t...

Eat excess red meat and processed meat

Eat foods rich in calories and poor in nutrients

Follow sedentary lifestyle

Use tobacco and drink excessively

Binge on processed and fat rich foods