How to avoid colorectal cancer for older adults

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 22 Americans will develop colorectal cancer at some point during their lifetime. Of that number, most of the people diagnosed will be older than 50. March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and a time to look at the importance of colon health among adults, especially older adults.

About colorectal health

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. Besides from helping remove waste from the body, the colon is an important part of keeping the balance of water and nutrients in the body. So, it is no surprise that practicing good nutrition is a vital element in having a healthy colon. This can be difficult for some older adults, especially if they are experiencing isolation or various health problems. Some may find foods less appealing and eating regular meals may feel less enjoyable due to age-related changes to the senses of smell and taste. Problems with dental health or difficulty swallowing can also make eating a balanced diet difficult for older adults and encourage poor habits.

Eating for colorectal health

Following a diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and that limits or avoids red and processed meats may lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Eating high amounts of red and processed meats has been linked to colon cancer. Most processed meats such as hot dogs, lunchmeats, ham, bacon, and sausage are preserved with sodium nitrate. During digestion, sodium nitrate may convert to a chemical called nitrosamine, which is known to cause cancer. When possible, people should avoid processed meats and limit their intake of red meats.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends a daily intake of 2 to 3 cups of vegetables for women age 60 and older and 2 ½- 3 ½ cups for men over the age 60 and older. A healthier diet packed with vegetables, fruits, and lean meats also should help control weight. Obesity increases the risk of getting and dying from colon cancer. The National Cancer Institute reports that obese people are about 30 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer than normal-weight people.

Smoking contributes to risk

Coupled with maintaining a healthy weight and diet, avoiding alcohol and cigarettes is a tremendous help for colon cancer prevention. Much like processed meats, the body breaks down alcohol and cigarette smoke into dangerous carcinogens that can put people at risk. According to the National Cancer Institute, people who regularly drink 3.5 drinks per day have 1.5 times the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Smoking harms about every organ and organ system and weakens overall health. Long-term smokers also increase their risk of developing and dying from colon cancer. Of the 250 known harmful chemicals in cigarettes, at least 69 cause cancer.

Finally, one of the biggest preventative measures a person can take to ensure good colon health is to make regular screening a priority. Recommended for people 50 and older, a colonoscopy can detect colorectal cancer early and enable the removal of pre-cancerous polyps. In healthy people without a history of risk factors, they are done every five to 10 years. However, in 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) updated its guidance to recommend screening for all adults aged 45 to 75. A study found that people over 75 that were screened for colorectal cancer had a 40 percent less chance of dying from the disease.

Let Us Help 

To help you educate your residents and staff about colorectal cancer and other health topics and medical conditions, The Compliance Store has a wealth of online resources and information sheets that are always available for download. Contact us online or by phone at 877-582-7347.