March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month


Colorectal cancer is among the top three most common cancers in Hawaiʻi. Although Native Hawaiians do not get colorectal cancer as often as some other ethnicities, they are the most likely to die from it.

An estimated 47% of colorectal cancer cases in the U.S. are due to lifestyle choices. Dietary choices are believed to play the biggest part. Research shows that diets high in fiber and calcium and low in red meat and alcohol may all help prevent colorectal cancer.

High fiber foods helps to move the stool more quickly through and out of your body, absorbing toxins on its way out. This decreases the amount of time these cancer-causing toxins are in contact with your intestines. Fiber-rich foods have nutrients that fight cancer cells and maintain healthy gut bacteria, strengthening your immune system. Oatmeal, brown rice, whole-grain breads and noodles, soy and other beans, vegetables, and fruits are all high in fiber.

Calcium promotes healthy cell growth and function, including those that line the intestines. Calcium-rich foods include dark green vegetables, limu, soybeans, canned fish with bones, yogurt, and calcium-fortified plant milks.

On the other hand, red meat damages your DNA by creating gene mutations that cause cancer growth. Iron, naturally found in meat, and chemicals newly formed in meat during the cooking process, can transform normal cells into cancerous ones. Pork, beef, lamb, veal, bison, venison, and goat are all considered “red meat.”

Alcohol itself causes cancer, regardless of what form – beer, wine, distilled liquor. It can damage your DNA and prevent your body from repairing the damage. Alcohol also makes it easier for toxins to enter the body’s cells.

Besides choosing a good diet, it is important to practice other positive health habits.

This includes keeping your body physically active, managing your weight, and not smoking.

It is never too early to make healthy lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of cancer.

Cancer can take many years to develop. Colon cancer in particular is slow-growing, and is estimated to take about 10-15 years to develop. About 83% of colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed at age 55 years and older. By the year 2030, it is expected to be a leading cause of death for those under 50 years old. This means that the lifestyle choices you make in your 20s and 30s could determine whether you get cancer in your 40s or 50s.

Why explain the “whys” and “hows” of this disease? Because more knowledge translates to greater will power to make changes.

For those thinking they can never quit eating red meat or drinking alcohol, don’t give up trying! Start by substituting one meal a week with chicken, fish, or tofu. Then slowly increase the number of meals without meat.

For those who grew up in families who ate meat or drank alcohol all their lives, consider the health of past and present family members. How would you rate their health? How long did they live? Are/were they on medications? Remember, meat and alcohol cause other diseases as well.

Lowering your risk of colorectal cancer means perpetuating life and the lāhui.