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Preventing cancer starts with your diet

You probably tend to think of foods as either “healthy” or “unhealthy.” 

While healthy foods help you stay fit and feel good, unhealthy foods make you gain weight and feel sluggish.

However, there’s another step beyond unhealthy. There are foods that may contribute to your risk of cancer—namely colon cancer.

Colon cancer is the second most deadly type of cancer behind lung cancer. Every year, 140,000 people get colon cancer and as many as 50,000 people die from it. 

“Colon cancer is very treatable in its early stages,” said Bogdan Protyniak, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. “Unfortunately, because it can be difficult to recognize the symptoms, it can progress to later stages and become deadly. The best way to prevent colon cancer is to take preventive steps.”

Your diet is one risk factor for colon cancer. In fact, certain foods may make you as much as 37 percent more likely to develop it. 

Here are three foods that can increase your risk of colon cancer.

Processed and red meats
While that bacon, salami or beef may look appetizing, you may want to take a closer look at how much of it you’re eating.

In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared that processed meats (such as hot dogs, bacon, lunch meat and salami) cause cancer. They also said that red meats (such as beef, pork, veal and lamb) likely cause cancer as well.

Researchers found that eating 50 grams of processed meat every day (equivalent to one hot dog or four strips of bacon) may increase your risk of colon cancer by 18 percent.

While the report doesn’t say that you should stop eating these meats altogether, it does urge caution and moderation. 

To reduce your risk of colon cancer, consider swapping red meats for poultry and fish. 

White bread
Just like processed meats, processed grains can also increase your risk of colon cancer. 

Refined grains in white bread and other white flour foods can increase blood sugar levels, which lead to insulin resistance. This can raise your risk of colon cancer—as well as other cancers like kidney cancer. 

Grains are also a leading source of fiber in people’s diets. But because they are so processed, white flour foods do not have as much fiber as whole grain foods. 

Choosing whole grain bread, pasta and oats can increase your fiber intake and reduce your colon cancer risk.

Sugary drinks

Sugary drinks are everywhere. Depending on where you are, it may even be easier to get a soda than a bottle of water. 

While studies have shown the link between sugary drinks and obesity, they may cause cancer as well. 

“The sugar in drinks like soda can lead to chronic inflammation,” said Dr. Protyniak. “Inflammation can lead to many different cancers throughout the body—including colon cancer.”

To avoid colon cancer, replace your sugary drinks with water and other low-calorie and low-sugar alternatives.

Foods that fight colon cancer
While there are foods that cause colon cancer, there are also foods that help prevent it, too. 

“Foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains all fight colon cancer,” said Dr. Protyniak. “This is likely because they are all high in fiber.”

To decrease your risk of colon cancer, try eating more of these foods or even switching to a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets don’t restrict your intake of meat, but they focus on vegetables as the main course and meat as a side dish. 

Because these foods can’t completely eliminate your risk for colon cancer, it’s still necessary to get a routine colonoscopy as recommended by your doctor. 

Bogdan Protyniak, M.D., is a colorectal surgeon at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. For more information or to schedule an appointment:
For patients in northeastern Pennsylvania: Call 570-808-2340
For patients in central Pennsylvania: Call 1-800-275-6401 and say colonoscopy at the prompt