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Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in American men, and black men are more than 20 percent higher risk than white men. And recently there has been an increase in colon cancer in young men. Fortunately, we can all do a lot to prevent this from happening. This is what gastroenterologist Darrell M. Gray II, MD, MPH, assistant director of the Center for Cancer Health Justice at Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, is doing to reduce his risk.
Go easy on alcohol
Whenever I’m in a social capacity, I carry a carbonated drink with me. Alcohol, especially for men, has been linked to a higher risk of colon cancer. People who drink two drinks a day or more increase their risk by one and a half times the risk of people who don’t drink at all. The occasional glass of red wine is enough for me.
Watch the red meat
I generally try to avoid red meat as it is linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. While, if we’re being honest, nothing exactly matches the taste and texture of a beautiful steak, a fresh, well seasoned, just right cooked piece of fish takes up so much space on the plate and can be just as much as: if not more, satisfying for me.
Exercise to lower your risk of colon cancer
Between meetings, procedures, patients, and research, I may find myself doing push-ups in my office. Maintaining a consistent exercise routine is challenging my schedule, but I adjust it between appointments or by biking or walking with my wife and three kids. Even adding moderate activity to a sedentary life can lower your risk of colon cancer 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. In colon cancer, knowing if someone had it and when may change if you should be examined. We usually recommend starting from the age of 45. However, if an immediate family member has been diagnosed, you may need a colonoscopy by age 40 or earlier.
Manage your stress
Stress can make everything else I do more difficult. So when I attend to my many obligations, I focus on my breathing as well. When stress arises, I recognize the cause and breathe in and out slowly and thoughtfully. It helps me re-center myself. I’ve seen that stress causes people to smoke, drink alcohol, overeat, or be sedentary – and all of these things can increase the risk of colon cancer.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2020 issue of Men’s Health, entitled “Doctor’s Guide to Colon Cancer”.
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