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What to Eat and What to Avoid to Reduce Your Risk of Bowel Cancer


Cancer has the potential of being one of the most preventable cancers if detected early through screening, according to Cancer Australia(1). Early-stage detection to improve cancer patients’ chances of survival was highlighted on this year’s World Cancer Day 2019 with the ‘I Am and I Will’ theme. 

With one of the world’s highest rates of bowel cancer, some 16,400 people were expected to be diagnosed in 2019 in Australia. It was estimated that for 2019, more than 100 Australians would die every week from bowel (colorectal) cancer. 

These figures mean bowel cancer is the second most common cause of death due to cancer, next to lung cancer. However, Australia has one of the highest cancer survival rates in the world(2) The problem is that bowel cancer rates in Australia are increasing in those under the age of 50(3). 

But what causes bowel cancer? Lifestyle, smoking, and what you eat(4) are known to increase your bowel cancer risk, and heredity plays a part.  And some bowel cancers can be avoided altogether. Here’s how to increase your chances: 

A considerable number of undiscovered polyps develop over time into bowel cancers.

A colonoscopy is the most accurate way of detecting bowel polyps, and it’s still the only means of removing them, thereby preventing the development of bowel cancer

At Direct Endoscopy, our friendly staff can give you all the details about how to book in for your potentially life-saving colonoscopy, so call us today.

The Best Foods

A high fibre diet is crucial in reducing the risk of developing bowel cancer. But not all fibre is the same. There are two types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibre draws in water and helps to soften stools, and insoluble fibre makes stools bulky, so they are more easily passed through the bowel. An ideal source fibre comes from cereal fibre and whole grains(5), with the recommended amount for adults 30g per day. 

However, fewer than 20 per cent of adults in Australia reach that goal. One of the best sources of fibre is wheat bran, with only 25g of it shown to reduce pre-cancerous growths in a trial in Australia(6). 

How fibre achieves this is not yet known, but by reducing the time it takes food to pass through the gut, thus lessening the time the bowel is exposed to potential carcinogens, or it could be by balancing gut bacteria. Add wheat bran to your usual cereal or smoothie, or use it in cooking. 

A diet high in fibre has also been linked to improved survival once bowel cancer is diagnosed(7). While meta-analysis shows that cheese or other dairy products do not reduce bowel cancer risk, milk and total dairy products are linked with a ‘probable’ reduced risk, and oily fish might afford some protection.

Concerning fish, a UK trial(8) of people with inherited pre-cancerous bowel polyps (familial adenomatous polyposis) received a daily supplement of fish oils (which have omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids). Another group was given a placebo. 

The results showed the fish oil was linked with a reduction in the growth of polyps. However, this study was only observational, showing a correlation, but another study(9) showed an improvement in the survival rate of bowel cancer was linked to drinking coffee daily – both caffeinated and decaffeinated. 

Bowel polyps rarely produce symptoms, but they can become cancerous. 

As a bowel cancer prevention, polyps are removed during a colonoscopy, so if you have any of the symptoms of bowel cancer, the sooner you have this procedure, the more chance you have of a life-saving early-stage diagnosis.

Call Direct Endoscopy today to book in for your colonoscopy!

Avoid These Things to Prevent Bowel Cancer

The main food to avoid is meat of all types in large quantities to reduce your risk of bowel cancer. There is evidence(10) of a link between eating large amounts (more than 100 grams per day) of meat and bowel cancer. 

This includes meat from the muscles of veal, beef, lamb, goat, and pork, and processed meat such as bacon, sausages and ham. The processing of chemically preserved, salted, or smoked meats produces possible cancer-causing compounds. It’s recommended that people minimise their consumption of processed meats and eat only 100g (the size of your palm) of red meat a day.  

Other Ways to Reduce Your Bowel Cancer Risk

A healthy lifestyle overall is the answer to reduce your risk of bowel cancer. Stop smoking, drink less alcohol, get plenty of exercise, and lose belly fat. Avoid eating lots of processed foods, and for Australians over 50, do the poop test that comes in the mail. If you participate in this National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, you can go a long way towards reducing your bowel cancer risk.  

If you’re in the Melbourne area and your doctor has recommended a colonoscopy, call Direct Endoscopy today on 9781 5959 and follow these easy steps to book an appointment:

  1. Print Referral Form & take it to your Doctor     
  2. Call us on 9781 5959 to make an appointment
  3. Click here to Read the Appointments Page 


Dr David Badov
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