The Wellness Library

Strategies to Lower Your Risk of Gastrointestinal Cancer

by | Nov 30, 2023 | Cancer Care

gastrointestinal cancer risk management

Gastrointestinal cancers have affected many lives, whether it’s through a friend, a family member, or our own fears about our genetic predisposition. These cancers, including esophageal, gastric, and colorectal cancers, stand as some of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. While genetics can play a role in cancer development, the choices we make and early intervention can significantly reduce the risk of these potentially deadly diseases.

Managing Risk of Gastrointestinal Cancer

In this blog, we’ll delve into strategies for limiting gastrointestinal cancers—focusing on esophageal, gastric, and colorectal cancer—by offering actionable recommendations that you can even start today. Many of these strategies will include dietary habits, lifestyle changes, and speaking with a professional for your concerns. By taking a personal and proactive approach to GI health, we can decrease our risk of these life-altering conditions. 

Esophageal Cancer 

Esophageal cancer often develops due to long-term exposure to stomach acid, particularly in cases of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The symptoms of this type of gastrointestinal cancer don’t often show up early, so it is important to be proactive in your health and always consult a professional with any concerns you may have. For those who are worried about their own susceptibility, here are some recommendations to help limit the risk of esophageal cancer: 

  • Limit GERD Triggers:

Triggers include alcohol, spicy or minty foods, citrus, chocolate, coffee, and fatty/fried foods, all of which can exacerbate GERD symptoms. However, you don’t need to necessarily withhold yourself from all of these forever. Triggers can vary from person to person; therefore, it can be very helpful to work alongside a professional to identify your triggers so that you can better manage them!

  • Avoid Overeating:

We know the feeling—wanting to eat even more of that delicious meal. However, overfilling your stomach can cause stomach contents to back up into the esophagus, increasing acid exposure. Therefore, it is better to make a habit of listening to your stomach’s fullness cues.

  • Consider Supplementary Digestive Enzymes:

Digestive enzymes occur naturally in the body, aiding in digestion and helping to break down food. For some, the body does not produce these enzymes properly or create enough of them. If you frequently experience cramps, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and other uncomfortable symptoms, this one may hit close to home. However, these symptoms can be associated with a wide range of gastrointestinal problems, so it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to see if digestive enzymes could be right for you. 

  • Manage Stress:

High stress levels can lead to excess stomach acid production, which can irritate the stomach lining and promote abnormal cell growth in the esophagus. It can be helpful to identify what causes your stress, limit those triggers, and strategize self-calming activities. We know relieving stress can be easier said than done, but still want to emphasize the importance of utilizing self-care to better your health!

We’ve all worried about heartburn from time to time, and if you’re concerned, know that proactive management of GERD, stress, and dietary adjustments can reduce the risk of esophageal cancer. If you experience symptoms of GERD such as heartburn, nausea, vomiting, or chest pain, seek medical advice and consider an endoscopy to evaluate your esophageal health. 

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Gastric Cancer 

Stomach cancer is influenced by various factors, including infections, dietary choices, and lifestyle habits. Generally, gastric cancer develops slowly over time, and doesn’t usually show symptoms in early development. However, there are multiple types of stomach cancer, all of which develop differently and require varying treatment. To lower your risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer in the stomach, consider these recommendations: 

  • Eliminate Tobacco Use:

For those of us who’ve seen the effects of smoking, we know this can be a bit personal—however, smoking tobacco significantly increases the risk of various cancers, including stomach cancer.

  • Screen for H. Pylori and Pernicious Anemia:

H. Pylori is a type of bacteria that can cause an infection in the stomach. It does not always show symptoms, but in some cases can be harmful enough to cause gastrointestinal cancers in some individuals. Pernicious anemia, on the other hand, is an autoimmune condition that prevents absorption of vitamin B12. This can harm more than just your digestive system, and can create many different health problems if left untreated.

These two factors require a strategy that involves proactive screening and professional advice. However, testing for these two things can save lives. Consult with your healthcare provider for more information about screening for H. Pylori and pernicious anemia.

  • Dietary Adjustments:

Avoid charred meat, particularly meats cooked over an open flame, as they create polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are a known type of carcinogen caused by the fats in meat. For grill-masters who are particularly opposed to giving up grilling, you can still make better choices during your cookout! How and what you cook on your grill can make a big difference.

Choosing leaner meats or even swapping your meats for grilled veggies instead can be a closer step to healthier choices. Avoid cooking to the point of charring your meats, and consider wrapping any meats in foil while you cook. Additionally, make healthier choices when choosing marinades or sauces.

Another dietary adjustment is to avoid the consumption of smoked, pickled, and salted foods while increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables to ensure adequate antioxidants in your diet. Antioxidants help fight harmful free radicals in the body, which are thought to play a role in the development of cancer. Research on the benefits of antioxidants for cancer is still ongoing, but there is no harm in having a healthier diet!

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight:

We understand that every person’s health journey can be personal. However, it is important to acknowledge that obesity is associated with an elevated risk of gastric cancer. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can help mitigate this risk, so it is important to incorporate regular exercise into your lifestyle habits. 

By making lifestyle changes such as quitting your smoking habits, modifying your diet, and receiving regular screening from a professional, you can lower your risk of developing gastric cancer as well as other gastrointestinal cancers.

RELATED: DNA – Decoding our Destiny

Colorectal Cancer 

Colorectal cancer refers to both colon cancer and rectal cancer. It is a more common type of cancer in the US, but there are still some lifestyle changes that can help lower your risk. One of the biggest factors for this type of cancer is regular screening. The following are some suggestions to help limit colorectal cancer risk: 

  • Screen for Lynch Syndrome:

Some individuals may have a family history of colorectal cancer—screening is especially important in that case. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer should consider genetic testing for Lynch syndrome, a common hereditary condition that increases the risk of other cancers.

  • Promote a Healthy Lifestyle:

Similarly with other cancers, maintaining a healthy weight with regular exercise as well as quitting habits of smoking or drinking alcohol frequently can help to lower your risk of many gastrointestinal cancers.

Also consider increasing the amount of fiber and water intake in your diet to facilitate regular and healthy bowel movements, especially if constipation is a common struggle. Those who experience chronic constipation should consult with a professional to test for possible causes such as gastrointestinal cancer.

  • Manage Inflammatory Bowel Diseases:

For those with IBD, it’s a personal battle to find management strategies that work best for you. However, it is very important to adhere to prescribed medications to prevent flare-ups and reduce inflammation in the colon or rectum. This is because those with IBD have an increased risk for colorectal cancer—especially gastric cancer—as inflammation is a major risk factor. Therefore, those with IBD should be sure to work closely with a healthcare professional to monitor for potential developments of gastrointestinal cancer.

Colorectal cancer risk is on the rise and a concern for many, whether due to family history or inflammatory bowel diseases. By taking steps like genetic screening, promoting a healthy lifestyle, and managing IBD, you can proactively reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. 

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You may know someone affected by gastrointestinal cancer, or worry about your own susceptibility. We’ve been there, too. While there are many other risk factors involved with cancer, you can still take many steps to lower your risk through healthier lifestyle choices. By adopting a proactive approach to GI health and taking these recommendations as part of our personal health journey, we can take control and work toward a cancer-free future. Lifestyle adjustments, screenings, and early interventions are not just statistics—they are our best defense against malignancy.

1 Comment

  1. Wilma Ferry

    I appreciate the balanced and comprehensive approach you’ve taken in this article.


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