A colon cancer doctor shares 3 things he does to prevent the disease

Dr. Michael Shusterman makes small changes to lower his colon cancer risk.
NYU Langone/Getty Images

  • Colorectal cancer cases are on the rise among young adults.
  • Certain lifestyle factors can help reduce the risk of developing the disease.
  • GI oncologist Dr. Michael Shusterman does these three simple things to fit into his busy schedule.

Colorectal cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death in American men under the age of 50 and the second leading cause of cancer death in women of the same age.

According to the American Cancer Society, rates of the disease in younger people have been increasing since the 90s, and total medical costs for colon cancer treatment in the United States will be $24.3 billion in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Experts still don't know exactly what's behind the rise in cases, and while some factors like genetics are out of our control, there are some lifestyle choices that can reduce the risk of developing colon cancer, says Dr. Michael Shusterman, a gastrointestinal medical oncologist at NYU Langone's Perlmutter Cancer Center in Long Island. told Business Insider.

Being obese, having type 2 diabetes and smoking are associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. However, “they don't directly lead to colon cancer,” he said.

But Schusterman generally recommends that patients quit smoking, reduce alcohol consumption, exercise at moderate intensity, eat more fiber and less red meat, and avoid highly processed foods as much as possible.

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He also recognizes that making big lifestyle changes can be difficult, and struggles with it. For this reason, he focuses on small things that easily fit into his schedule. “It's hard to do when you're a busy professional, so finding the time is important, but it's a struggle for me,” she said.

Shusterman shares three simple changes that can help prevent colon cancer.

Eating less red meat

A diet high in red meat products, such as beef, liver, pork and deli meats, and colon cancer is strongly linked, Shusterman said.

According to the World Health Organization, cooking meats at high temperatures or in direct contact with flames or hot surfaces, such as in barbecuing, also increases the risk.

Although he loves the taste of burgers and liver, four years ago, Shusterman decided to cut back on his health. Now he rarely buys red meat and eats it only on special occasions.

“It's a lot harder to go out and exercise four times a week than it is to reduce your red meat consumption in many ways,” he said. Try making it a treat rather than a meal, and substitute something like chicken or fish, he said.

Eating more tree nuts

There is some evidence that eating tree nuts such as cashews, almonds, macadamias and hazelnuts may reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.

A large study found that people with stage III colon cancer who ate at least two, one-ounce servings of tree nuts per week were less likely to have the cancer come back or die sooner than those who didn't. However, a peer review comparing research on the topic found conflicting results.

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Although the data were mixed, some positive correlation was enough to prompt Shusterman to add tree nuts to his diet. “It's not harmful as long as there's no conflict with it,” he said.

It's important to note that this is only a link, which could be explained by several factors, such as generally healthy habits among people who eat nuts, Shusterman said.

Vitamin D

Similarly, Shusterman takes daily vitamin D supplements in hopes of lowering his risk. His usual dose is 1,000 to 2,000 international units.

There is some evidence that people with healthy vitamin D levels are less likely to develop colon cancer, but this is subject to bias. Some studies have found a link between vitamin D and colon cancer, while others have not.

For Shusterman, though, it's still worth it. “Normal vitamin D levels and exposure to sunlight aren't going to harm you. So that's not necessarily a bad thing. If anything, sunlight makes people happier,” he said.

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