Colorectal cancer is the third-most-common cancer in American men, and Black men have a more than 20 percent higher risk than white men. And there’s recently been a spike in colon cancer in young men. Fortunately, there is plenty all of us can do to try to prevent it. This is what gastroenterologist Darrell M. Gray II, M.D., M.P.H., deputy director of the Center for Cancer Health Equity at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center does to reduce his risk.
Go easy on alcohol
When I’m at a social function, I carry a carbonated beverage with me. Alcohol, especially for men, is linked with a higher risk of colon cancer. People who have two drinks a day or more raise their risk as much as one and a half times that of people who don’t drink at all. The occasional glass of red wine is enough for me.
Watch the red meat
I generally aim to avoid red meat, since it’s been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. While, if we’re being honest, nothing exactly matches the taste and texture of a nice steak, a fresh, well-seasoned, cooked-just-right piece of fish takes up as much space on the plate and can be just as, if not more, satisfying to me.
Get moving to reduce colon cancer risk
Between meetings, procedures, patients, and research, you might catch me doing pushups in my office. Maintaining a consistent workout routine is challenging with my schedule, but I fit it in between appointments or by cycling or walking with my wife and three kids. Even adding moderate activity to a sedentary life can reduce colon-cancer risk by up to 24 percent.
Know your family history
I have a friend who says that “family secrets kill families.” Find out about your family’s medical history. With colorectal cancer, knowing if someone had it—and when—can change when you should get screened. Usually we recommend starting at age 45. But if an immediate family member was diagnosed, you might need a colonoscopy at age 40 or earlier.
Manage your stress
Stress can make everything else I do harder. So when I’m moving through my many commitments, I’m also focusing on my breathing. If stress arises, I acknowledge the cause and then I slowly and thoughtfully inhale and exhale. It helps me recenter. I’ve seen stress cause people to smoke, drink alcohol, eat excessively, or be sedentary—and all those things can increase the risk of colon cancer.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Men's Health, with the title "Doctor’s Guide to Colon Cancer.”
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