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Bowel Cancer: The lifestyle factors you should be aware of

11 April 2018

Bowel cancer is one of the UK’s biggest killers, with approximately 1 in 20 people receiving a diagnosis during their lifetime.

Whilst there are genetic factors attributed to the development of the disease, there are also lifestyle choices which could make someone more susceptible to bowel cancer.  

Alongside understanding and recognising the primary symptoms of the disease, (such as abdominal pain, a change in bowel habit, blood in your stools, and sudden unexplained weight loss) and seeking early diagnosis/treatment if you are concerned, being aware of the lifestyle factors which can increase your risk of bowel cancer is vitally important.

 To tie-in with Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, which is taking place throughout April in the UK, Mr Omer Aziz, Colorectal Surgeon from HCA The Wilmslow Hospital,shares his expert knowledge on how we can make better lifestyle choices to positively impact our health and chances of developing bowel cancer.

Overhaul your diet

Mr Aziz says: “Several studies suggest that there is a link between bowel cancer and a diet rich in red and processed meat. The risk lies in how the body breaks down these foods and the impact they have on cells in the digestive system.

To reduce the risk, my advice would be for people to significantly cut back on eating red/processed meats and animal fats - limiting consumption to one or two days a week at the very most. This will not only reduce the risk of developing bowel cancer, but will also minimise the chances of developing several other cancers and heart disease.”

Watch your weight

Mr Aziz says: Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important tools for cancer prevention. More than 1 in 20 cancer cases in the UK are linked to the patient being overweight or obese. Looking at bowel cancer specifically, there is evidence to suggest that the risk increases the more overweight a person is, and the more time they have spent in an overweight/obese weight category.  Interestingly, obese men are more susceptible to this cancer than obese women however, the reasons for this are unknown."

Keep active

Mr Aziz says: “Leading a sedentary lifestyle, sat at a desk all day with limited physical activity, is known to be a key contributor to ill health and can increase the risk of several diseases – including bowel cancer.

It is so important for people to carry out at least 30 minutes of physical activity every single day. Some statistics suggest that around 1 in 8 cases of bowel cancer in the UK could be prevented if everyone put this into practice however, recent studies have shown that currently only 1 in 5 Brits do any exercise at all, which is concerning. A simple way to incorporate some exercise into a daily routine is to go for a brisk lunchtime walk. Using the stairs instead of taking the lift is a small daily change which can have a positive impact on health and increasing physical activity."

Stop smoking

Mr Aziz says: “It’s no surprise that tobacco is the largest cause of otherwise preventable deaths in the world. Whilst the number of smokers in the UK is falling, there are still far too many individuals regularly smoking and risking their health.

The risk of bowel cancer increases in line with the number of cigarettes smoked per day as does the age someone starts smoking.  Smokers are far more susceptible to bowel polyps (small growths on the bowel) than non-smokers and these are considered to be the ‘gateway’ to cancer developing in the colon.”

Know your limits

Mr Aziz says: The frequent over-consumption of alcohol, or ‘binge drinking’ is another lifestyle factor which increases the risk of bowel cancer. An estimated 11% of bowel cancer cases per year in the UK are linked to alcohol habits.

I think the most important thing to note here, is that moderation is key. As a nation, it’s well known that we enjoy a tipple however, it’s so important not to overdo it. I would recommend that alcohol consumption is limited to no more than twice a week. It’s very easy to get carried away when drinking, due to the social aspect, but it’s so important to exercise control in this area when thinking about health management, and in particular, the risk of bowel cancer.”

Screening is key 

Mr Aziz says: “While bowel cancer is most commonly diagnosed in those over the age of 40, it is not exclusively a disease for people within this age group and we do regularly treat younger patients. However, the current NHS screening programme only targets those over the age of 55 so it is important for people to recognise the key symptoms associated with the disease, and understand if there is a strong family link, so that they can seek medical advice if concerned and ask for further screening and if necessary a colonoscopy which is the best way to screen for bowel cancer.

A colonoscopy is a procedure which involves a thin tube with a camera being inserted into the rectum to check for cancers of the colon and pre-cancerous polyps. This means that any sign of cancer can be identified and removed as quickly as possible, either before the polyp has become cancerous or before the cancer develops further.”

It’s important to understand that making the above lifestyle alterations will not totally eliminate the threat of bowel cancer however, by implementing some simple changes and making sensible choices when it comes to health management everyone can minimise the risk they face. Early detection, screening and prevention of the disease is key, so being informed about the primary warning signs and symptoms to look out for, coupled with a solid understanding about how lifestyle choices can have an impact is imperative.

Mr Omer Aziz is a Colorectal Surgeon specialising in bowel cancer at HCA The Wilmslow Hospital Road and The Christie Private Care which is part of HCA Healthcare UK. For more information or to book an appointment with Mr Aziz please call 01625 545 036 or visit


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