Colorectal cancer (includes colon and rectal cancer) is a growth of malignant cells that starts in the large intestines and may grow and spread to other parts of the body.
Colorectal cancer is a common cause of death in the U.S., and approximately 1 in 20 (5%) will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in their lifetime.1 You may not know you have colorectal cancer until it has progressed, which is why screening has been suggested over the years as a useful strategy to lower death risk from this disease. If there are any of the following signs or symptoms, you may want to talk to your doctor:
All cancers have causes that are multifactorial, but they are not inevitable and not the normal consequence of aging. One’s diet is the major factor increasing one’s risk or decreasing one’s risk of colon cancer. A systematic analysis by scientists of the World Cancer Research Fund reviewing over 1000 studies on bowel cancer risk has confirmed that red meat increases risk and high fiber plant foods decrease the risk. This strengthens WCRF/AICR’s* recommendation for people to consume a plant-based diet including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and beans.
A small percentage of people who develop colorectal cancers had a genetic or inflammatory condition that was related to their elevated risk, however, scientific findings indicate that there are many factors that can lower the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Alcohol use, tobacco use, being overweight, being sedentary, eating meats (especially processed meats), and eating a low fiber diet have all been associated with a higher risk of colorectal cancer. Dietary factors can be significant when added all together. Cooking meats and processed meats at high temperatures, such as with grilling, broiling, or frying, increases risk, and when combined with very low fiber intake from vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, this can be synergistic at raising risk. Protective nutrients from these same high fiber plant foods may be actively working against cancer from developing, and an emphasis on the foods with the most protective nutrients is the best strategy.
*World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research’s (WCRF/AICR) Continuous Update Project (CUP)
Regular physical activity is associated with lower risk of colorectal cancer.
Screening is recommended. Screening methods such as colonoscopy, stool occult blood testing, and/or other methods are options for screening for colorectal cancers. Method and frequency should be discussed with your doctor and may depend on your medical history, family history, age, and prior screening test results.
The following are sample questions from the Ask the Doctor Community Platinum and higher members can post their health questions directly to Dr. Fuhrman. (All members can browse questions and answers.)
I had my first colonoscopy at age 50, which was fine. Now, 10 years later, the office has called telling me to schedule another one. Since the first one, I have lived a Nutritarian lifestyle (with few exceptions) and have no family history that I’m aware of. Is it necessary to repeat a colonoscopy every 10 years while maintaining a Nutritarian lifestyle?
While I can’t give you specific recommendations, we know that people who are at optimal weight, who are not insulin resistant, who eat a nutrient, fiber rich diet with limited animal protein, and who are active and exercise have reduced risk of colon cancer. Though I strongly believe a Nutritarian diet offers dramatic protection from cancer, the diet in your childhood and the earlier part of your adult life plays a role in this risk. So, since you only started the Nutritarian diet 10 years ago and had only one negative colonoscopy, I would have just one more and then never again after that if staying with dietary excellence, however, this is just an educated guess. Again, I have no specific recommendations based on scientific studies, so I cannot give definitive guidelines here; it still is personal decision after a discussion with your primary physician. If there is a family history, every 5 years may be recommended.
I have colon cancer and am curious how many ounces of animal products a week you recommend and which kind?
In the context of this post, the answer would be no animal products. Animal products promote anabolic hormones (especially IGF-1) that can induce cell proliferation increasing the risk or growth of the cancer. A vegan Nutritarian diet (with green juices) is more appropriate for a person with cancer.
Aside from mushrooms and cruciferous vegetables within a Nutritarian diet, are there specific foods you’d recommend for colon cancer patients? How about supplements in addition to Women’s Daily Formula, DHA/EPA Purity, Immunotect, and Osteo-Sun?
Read my book, Super Immunity, or the newsletter that gives the protocol for those with cancer. You may be aware, I recommend a large raw salad every day, and that salad includes raw cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, watercress, kale or collards as well as raw onion and tomato with a nut/seed based dressing to facilitate absorption. And for those with cancer or at higher risk of cancer, in addition to this large raw salad, I also recommend a blended salad at an additional meal or a glass of green-based juice. Don’t forget the other G-BOMBS, and that means beans, berries, and ground flax and chia seeds. Eliminate or severely limit animal products and sugar. It’s the entirety of the diet that is beneficial. Exercise is also important. Studies have shown that exercising 4-5 hours/week reduces the risk of colon cancer recurrence and mortality significantly. There are no additional supplements I would recommend, though some early evidence suggests digestive enzymes have some benefits for those who have cancer.