Although losing weight might affect how your belly looks, the more important change could be what’s happening right beneath it. A recent study in the journal JNCI Cancer Spectrum found that even a modest amount of weight loss could reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
Researchers looked at about 17,000 participants in a study on prostate, lung, colorectal, and ovarian cancer screening and discovered that those who lost weight during the 5-year research period were 46% less likely to develop polyps in the colon.
These growths, also called adenomas, are strongly associated with cancer development, and that’s why they’re removed during screening colonoscopies.
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How much weight loss made a difference? As little as 1.1 pounds, the researchers noted. In part, that’s because weight maintenance seemed to play a major role. Participants who gained about six pounds were 30% more likely to have polyps.
Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men and women, the overall rate has been declining in the past 20 years. Many experts believe that’s likely due to more screening, including new recommendations that colonoscopies should start at age 45 instead of 50.
That decrease in cancer rates isn’t the same across all age groups, however. For people under 40, the trend is headed in the other direction, and that’s a huge problem, according to Yi-Qian Nancy You, MD, in the department of colon and rectal surgery at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at The University of Texas.
She says that if current trends continue, it’s likely that colon cancer will increase by 90% in people under age 35, and rectal cancer could increase by about 125% percent by the year 2030.
“Higher prevalence is a significant concern, but another serious issue will be treatment,” she tells Eat This, Not That!. “About 60% of these young patients are diagnosed with stage III and IV colorectal cancer, which is harder to treat.”
That means putting any lifestyle strategies in place, at any age, is a crucial part of lowering risk, she adds. In addition to losing weight, other ways to reduce colorectal risk are getting regular exercise as well as eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables, according to the American Cancer Society.