A diet high in fat and low in dietary fibre increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer or cancer of the large intestine (colon and rectum), say experts. Studies have found that this type of diet, particularly if it contains a significant quantity of red meat and processed meat, may cause inflammation and promote tumour growth in the cells lining the large intestine. These tumours typically start as benign polyps and, over time, can turn cancerous.
Colorectal cancer – which is the most common cancer among men in Singapore and the second most common cancer among women, after breast cancer – tends to be diagnosed at later stages, “with about one third of cases diagnosed at Stage III and a further one-quarter at Stage IV”, according to the National Registry of Diseases Office. A total of 3,906 people in Singapore died from colorectal cancer in 2011 – 2015.
Other diet and lifestyle related risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- Excessive consumption of alcohol
- A sedentary lifestyle and being physically inactive
Dr Claramae Chia, Consultant in the Division of Surgical Oncology at the National Cancer Centre Singapore, shares the following diet and lifestyle tips for reducing your risk of colorectal cancer:
- Limit intake of red meat and processed meat
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Eat a variety of fibre-rich fruits and vegetables
- Replace refined grains with fibre-rich whole grains
How does dietary fibre protect against colorectal cancer?
Fibre is the carbohydrate in plant foods that cannot be digested or absorbed by the body and passes through the digestive system relatively intact. It is classified as soluble (dissolves in water), e.g. oats, barley, peas, apple; and insoluble (doesn’t dissolve in water), e.g. whole wheat flour, wheat bran, nuts, cauliflower. Both soluble and insoluble fibre protects you against colorectal cancer.
Fibre’s benefits include adding bulk and improving waste removal from the large intestine and maintaining its health, and keeping you feeling full longer which helps with weight management.
- Do not smoke
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Stay active with regular and moderate exercise, e.g. brisk walking, dancing
- Get regular screening for colorectal cancer. Individuals without any risk factors or symptoms should start screening at the age of 50.
“For individuals at risk, screening should begin earlier, before the age of 50, depending on the risk factor present. Examples of risk factors are a family history of colorectal cancer, polyps and inflammatory bowel disease,” says Dr Chia. “Screening for colorectal cancer has been proven to save lives.”