Stephen Durkota RN, BSN
In 2000, March was named National Colon Cancer Awareness Month. This month, we at Georgia Cancer Specialists remember our friends, family, and patients affected by this disease. We also honor the strength of the human spirit and the miracle of the moments that make up our lives. National Colon Cancer Awareness Month is a time for healthcare providers and the community to come together in spreading awareness to our friends and neighbors about colon cancer’s early symptoms, risk factors and the importance of screening.
Generally speaking, one in twenty Americans will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime. Only 3-5% of these cases are likely to be caused by heredity alone. This means that most colorectal cancers are caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. We can’t change our genes, but we can make small changes in lifestyle that affect our health in big ways. Here are a few decisions you can make this year to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer:
- Schedule regular check-ups with your healthcare provider. It is especially important that you speak with your doctor if you experience unusual, lasting abdominal pain, unexpected weight loss, changes in bowel habits or blood in your stools. While these symptoms can be from causes other than cancer, only your healthcare provider will have the knowledge to properly diagnose the underlying cause.
- Know when to be screened for colorectal cancer. If you are 50 years old or older, speak with your doctor about getting screened. You may need to begin screening earlier if you or a close family member have a history of colorectal polyps or cancer, an inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) or if you have a genetic condition such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer.
- Increase your physical activity. You don’t need to run a marathon or become a body builder to reduce your risk for colorectal cancers. Think about small, daily choices and build from there. Take a 10 minute walk on your lunch break, park in the back of the grocery store parking lot, take a bike ride or hike outdoors. Three to four hours of moderate activity spread over the week may be enough to reduce your risk. Of course, you should speak with your doctor before beginning any exercise program.
- Limit how much red and processed meat you eat. While the link isn’t entirely clear, some research suggests that diets high in red and processed meats can contribute to the development of cancer in the colon. If you eat red or processed meats, check the label for preservatives such as sodium or potassium nitrite. These preservatives may also contribute to cancer risk, so look for nitrite-free meats when possible.
- Limit alcohol. Experts recommend no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and no more than two for men.
- Eat a high-fiber, low fat diet. Diets high in fiber and low in fat are less likely to contribute to colorectal cancer risk than the traditional American diet which is high in fats, sugars and processed foods. Aim to have at least one serving of vegetables with each lunch, dinner and snack. Choose baked over fried foods and make the switch to whole grains.
See the recipe below from nationally renowned Athens, GA chef Peter Dale of The National for some high-fiber, low fat inspiration!
Red Lentil Soup
Serves 4, with some leftovers
- 1 ½ cups red lentils
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- ½ inch slice of ginger root, minced
- 1 tablespoon curry powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 3 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 medium carrots, peeled or scrubbed, and cut into ½ inch slices
- 1 head of cauliflower, trimmed and broken into bite-sized florets
- salt and pepper to taste
- optional: chopped cilantro and Greek yogurt as garnish
- Rinse the red lentils several times in cold water. In a large bowl cover them by at least two inches of boiling water. Allow them to sit while you do the next two steps.
- Heat your soup pot, add the olive oil, wait a few seconds, and then add the onion with a pinch of salt. Cook for a few minutes over medium heat, stirring frequently to prevent the onion from browning too much or burning.
- When the onion is translucent, add the ginger and garlic and the ground spices to the cooked onion. Stir frequently as you cook over medium heat, for about 1 ½ minutes.
- Pour the lentils and soaking water into the soup pot, then add the stock (or additional water, if not using stock) and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down so that the soup simmers.
- Add the carrots and continue to cook, stirring occasionally and taking care not to let the lentils stick to the bottom of the pot. Add more water if the soup gets too thick. The lentils will soak up the water and stock very quickly.
- After about ten minutes, give the soup a good, thorough stir, and add the cauliflower pieces. Add more water if the soup seems to be drying out. Turn the heat to low, give the soup another good stir, then cover the pot, and cook for at least 20 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper. Optionally, garnish with chopped cilantro and a dollop of Greek yogurt.
Special thanks to Chef Peter Dale of the National for providing this recipe. Peter Dale was recognized as Food and Wine Magazine’s People’s Best New Chef Southeast in 2012.