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Healthy Living May Prevent Colon Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in every 21 men will develop colon cancer in his lifetime. However, one new study indicates that even men with a high genetic risk of developing the disease can reduce their odds of getting colon cancer by adopting a healthier lifestyle.

In the study, which was conducted by researchers in Great Britain, researchers reviewed data on colon cancer incidence and death rates collected over an 11-year period. They focused on 1.4 million men between the ages of 55 and 59 and found that about 25 percent of them had genetic risk factors that increased their chances of being diagnosed with colon cancer. The likelihood of this group getting colon cancer was the same as men who were age 60 and older. Researchers found that this group also had a 29 percent risk of developing the disease over the following 25 years.

About 1,300 of the men in the late-50s age group ended up developing colon cancer, but researchers found that a healthy lifestyle — filled with regular exercise, a balanced diet, no smoking and limited alcohol consumption — reduced these men’s risk of getting colon cancer from 30 percent to 13 percent over the next 25 years.

There are 37 known genetic mutations that increase a person’s risk of getting colon cancer, so this study suggest that even men whose DNA gives them a higher chance of the disease can do something to reverse this genetic pull.

Researchers say the study’s findings suggest that 610 cases of colon cancer could be prevented in the next 25 years if 10,000 high-risk men adopted a healthier lifestyle.

“Bowel cancer is one of the biggest cancer killers and the number of cases is going up in the Western world. We have made big strides in our understanding of the genetic and lifestyle factors that can contribute to the development of bowel cancer, and that gives us an opportunity to begin assessing people for their future risk,” said Richard Houlston, one of the study’s co-authors and professor of molecular and population genetics at The Institute of Cancer Research, London. “If we can identify people who are at strongly increased risk, through both genetic and lifestyle factors, we can begin to give them targeted health messages, aimed at helping them make choices that could prevent the disease.”

Overall, the study’s researchers are right about one thing: Making healthier choices can prevent or reduce the risk of disease. Healthy living is a good idea, whether or not you have colon cancer. The study will most likely need to be fleshed out more, as there is a connection but not one that is strong enough to denote a significant reduction in risk. So while exercise, eating healthy and improving one's lifestyle is a positive step in reducing risk and taking steps to prolong life, it doesn’t necessarily correlate with a dramatically reduced colon cancer risk — at least not yet. 

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