Diet and lifestyle factors
Diet and lifestyle changes can reduce your risk of bowel cancer:
• Increasing dietary fibre intake – Research shows convincing evidence that foods containing dietary fibre, such as plant foods, protect against bowel cancer by 10 per cent per 10 grams.
• Physical activity – A lifestyle that includes regular physical activity is linked to a decreased risk of bowel cancer. Increased body fat is a cause of bowel cancer, and Type 2 diabetes is increasingly recognised as an independent risk factor for bowel cancer.
• Limit red and processed meat, both of which have been linked to causing bowel cancer.
• Limit alcoholic drinks – studies show a 10% increased risk per 10g ethanol/day for bowel cancer.
For a full list of factors that increase and decrease bowel cancer risk, visit Bowel Cancer Australia’s Prevention webpage.
A closer look at the aspirin and bowel cancer study
According to the new Harvard study, taking aspirin regularly for six years could reduce a person’s risk of bowel cancer by 19 per cent.
The observational study, which followed 136,000 Americans aged 30-75 for up to three decades, found that regular aspirin users experienced a progressively greater reduction in the risk of gastrointestinal tract cancers after the first five years, with the most dramatic impact seen for bowel cancer.
The greatest benefit appeared among people who took a lower dosage of aspirin for a longer duration (i.e. more than 10 years). Researchers found a dosage of 0.5 to 1.5 standard aspirin tablets per week, or the equivalent of a daily dose of low-dose aspirin, resulted in better results compared to people using higher dosages.
However, over time, regular aspirin users were also more likely to have type 2 diabetes, to use multivitamins and most importantly, to have undergone a previous lower endoscopy, which is associated with significantly lowering bowel cancer risk.
“It remains unclear what the additional effect of aspirin use on cancer would be in the setting of screening, including lower endoscopy,” the authors say.
The authors conclude that aspirin may be a potential low-cost alternative or complement to endoscopic bowel cancer screening.
Bowel Cancer Australia recommends people speak to their GP about the potential benefits and side effects before taking aspirin on a regular basis.
Aspirin and bowel cancer recurrence
There is also emerging data that aspirin could be beneficial to patients diagnosed with bowel cancer.
The global ASCOLT study – led by Australian researchers and co-funded by Bowel Cancer Australia – is currently investigating if aspirin could reduce the recurrence of bowel cancer and improve survival outcomes after surgery.
Five year survival rates for bowel cancer are 66 per cent compared to around 90 per cent for other common cancers. Among individuals undergoing surgical treatment for bowel cancer, recurrence occurs in 30-40 per cent of cases.
Approximately 1,200 patients are participating in the ASCOLT study worldwide, with 200 patients from rural and regional sites across Australia.
Recruitment for the study remains open in many sites across Australia, so talk to your oncologist about eligibility.
For more information about the ASCOLT study, please visit Bowel Cancer Australia’s ASCOLT Study webpage.