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Colon Cancer and Its Relationship to Lifestyle and the Microbiome


Global deaths attributable to diabetes and colon cancer are on the incline over the last 20 years, increasing by 90% and 57%, respectively. Colorectal cancer affects approximately 1 out of every 23 (4.3%) men and 1 in every 25 (4.0%) women. It is a slow-developing condition that requires immediate and intense intervention to ensure survival. Surveillance with colonoscopy and other testing are crucial measures to identify and treat colon cancer at an earlier stage.

A diagnosis of colorectal cancer can change one’s life forever. The best way to beat such an illness is to avoid it entirely, and one of the best ways to prevent it is to understand the condition. So, in this article, we will discuss two of the most prominent risk factors associated with the development of colorectal cancer: the microbiome and lifestyle. 

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

You can find your colon within your abdomen, and it leads to the rectum, then the anus. The colon is the large intestine and is responsible for some absorption (mostly water), stool formation, storage, and passage. It plays an essential role in the digestion process, and therefore, its health and wellness have a significant impact on your overall well-being. 

According to the CDC, colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a condition that occurs when abnormal cells within the rectum or colon begin to grow and multiply out of control. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel. Cancer can start in the colon and spread to the rectum, the passageway that connects the colon to the anus or vice versa. 

How does Colon Cancer Develop?

Colon cancer usually begins with abnormal cell growth, which then forms small growths inside the colon or rectum. These masses are called polyps; however, some may be harmless while others can turn into cancerous tumors. For this reason, regular colon checks are highly recommended, as they facilitate early detection and intervention. 

 Risk Factors of Colon Cancer

Colon cancer development can be attributed to several causes. The more commonly reported ones include:

Family history of colon cancer and Genetic syndromes

Inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative Colitis

Sedentary lifestyle

Nutrition factors, specifically, unhealthy eating and drinking habits

Smoking

Obesity and Diabetes.

How does Lifestyle Cause Colorectal Cancer?

Our lifestyle choices significantly affect our short-term, but especially our long-term health. The things we practice daily can determine what quality of life we experience for the rest of our lives. Habits that are particularly unhealthy, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, inactivity, and unhealthy food choices, are prime suspects for destroying our bodies. 

Cigarette Smoking

Over the years, studies have shown that tobacco use undoubtedly increases your risk of developing colonic adenoma (non-cancerous tumor) and colorectal cancer. One such study looked at the association of cigarette smoking with adenoma recurrence. The study’s results showed that cigarette smokers have an increased risk of adenoma recurrence even after they have stopped smoking. 

There are several cancer-causing compounds (carcinogens) found within cigarettes, and the process by which they interact with the body to cause the growth of polyps is quite complex. To break it down into simpler terms, once you smoke, these harmful chemicals will enter your body and then undergo changes (metabolism), which then causes the formation of DNA abnormalities and further leads to gene mutation. Next, they bind to the body’s cells and cause particular stress on those cells, which leads to rapid and abnormal cell multiplication.

Obesity and Diabetes 

Obesity is typically caused by prolonged unhealthy eating habits and an inactive lifestyle. Again, studies have indicated that obesity is one of the leading causes of colorectal cancer. Although there have been several studies on the matter, it is still unclear how obesity causes colon cancer. However, experts suggest that fat cells release chemicals that contribute to the promotion of inflammation and carcinogenesis (cancer cell formation). Another consideration is the association of elevated insulin levels in the setting of insulin resistance from obesity. Insulin stimulates the growth of tissues (insulin-like growth factor), and high insulin states in obesity explain skin tags and an increased risk of colon polyps. In vitro studies have shown that insulin promotes tumor growth.

Similarly, diabetes is a disease state associated with higher risk of colon cancer. Patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus have a 27% higher risk of developing colon cancer than non-diabetes.

Physical Inactivity

Being physically inactive (sedentary), such as sitting or lying in one place for several hours per day, is one way to become quite unhealthy and sick in no time. It creates a pathway for several chronic illnesses. While others may have a choice, some people cannot move due to illness, injury, or disability. A clinical study conducted by Wolin and colleagues indicates that most sedentary individuals have a 24 % higher risk of colorectal cancer development than those who lead an active lifestyle. 

When you are physically inactive, it affects several bodily processes, such as reducing insulin sensitivity, increasing insulin levels, increasing body mass and adipose tissue (fat). These factors will cause a rise in chronic inflammation that initiates abnormal cell activity.

Food and Alcohol Intake

The consumption of red meat and other processed foods is associated with several cancers. There are a few possible reasons why the foods cause cancer development, one of which is the increased intake of heme, a compound present in red meat in very high concentrations. Its breakdown during the digestive process induces DNA mutations and numerous issues with signaling white blood cells. Alcohol reduces the absorption of certain valuable nutrients and destroys the DNA within white blood cells. 

How is the Microbiome Associated with Colorectal Cancer?

A microbiome is where a microorganism, like bacteria, viruses, and fungi can be found within our bodies. We can find the densest concentration of micro-organisms, or microbiota, within the colon and rectum (gut), some of which may lead to the development of colorectal cancer. 

In a healthy gut, the microbiota is responsible for aiding digestion, producing enzymes and vitamins, and protecting against harmful germs. However, alterations in the gut microbiota may occur, and prolonged abnormalities can cause significant health challenges. More research is being undertaken to understand the true role of the gut microbiome in colorectal cancer. One study evidenced that the gut microbiome could be responsible for the initial inflammation in the colon and rectum that can lead to polyps.

When cancer develops, an interaction starts among the gut microbiome, tumor microbiome, and immune system. This interaction causes the tumor microbiome to harm the gut microbiome. Once that occurs, there will be less than adequate immune system responses to any threat. It also reduces the efficacy of treatment modalities like chemotherapy. 

The gut microbiota may induce colorectal cancer cell formation in several ways, including, but not limited to:

Inflammation. Refer to the article linked with inflammation for further details.

● Hampering of the immune response 

● Changing the metabolism of specific dietary components, leading to the production of harmful compounds within the gut.

The evidence surrounding the development of colorectal cancer suggests that lifestyle changes are necessary, as it is best to be proactive than reactive in dealing with colorectal cancer. Your gut microbiome is also another critical driver and can be maintained at a healthy state with probiotics and other healthy food choices. For more information on the microbiome, refer to YHF article linked with microbiome. An article on colon cancer is forthcoming.

For more information, Your Health Forum offers an online course that outlines the common link in disease: inflammation. The course features instruction on inflammation, behavior, nutrition, and mindfulness exercises. The instructors discuss how you can reduce inflammation, improve disease conditions, and activate healing. Check out the webinar by clicking here.

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