Medical Moment: How weight loss can reduce your risk of colon cancer

Published: Sep. 27, 2022 at 5:40 PM EDT
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(WNDU) - Annually, 105,000 Americans will be told they have colon cancer. Most of these cancers start as a growth, or polyp on the inside lining of the colon.

Now, researchers say there’s more evidence that weight loss as an adult may have a significant impact on a person’s risk.

“Our study is one of the first to suggest a benefit of losing excess weight in helping reduce colorectal polyps, which may help reduce colorectal cancer,” explained Kathryn Hughes Barry, a cancer epidemiologist at the University of Maryland.

Professor Barry and her colleagues used data from 17,000 men and women in the prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening trial. The participants were ages 55 to 74. The researchers found that for overweight or obese adults, losing just two pounds per decade decreased a person’s risk of polyps, which can develop into colorectal cancer.

“When we looked at weight loss, we found there was a 46 percent decreased risk of these polyps for people who lose weight,” Dr. Barry continued.

The researchers say gaining about six pounds or more every five years was associated with a 30 percent increased risk of polyps. Barry says there are other preventative measures people can take to lower risk, including exercising regularly, eating a fiber-rich diet including whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

“Lowering intake of red meat and processed meats, like deli meat,” Dr. Barry said.

The overall lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 23 for men and 1 in 25 for women.

When diagnosing colon cancer, the symptoms include a persistent change in bowel habit, persistent abdominal discomfort such as cramps, gas or pain in your stomach, weakness or fatigue and unexplained weight loss.

Many people with colon cancer experience no symptoms in early stages of the cancer and when symptoms appear they are likely to vary, depending on the size and location in the large intestine.

Diagnosing colon or colorectal cancer is straightforward in that people get screened for colon cancer around the age of 45-years-old and people who have an increased risk such as those with a family history of the disease should consider getting screened sooner.

There are several different screening options, and each provide benefits and drawbacks. Talk to your doctor about the different options for screening and together decide which tests are appropriate for you.