Eating too much red meat and 5 other ways to tell if you’re at risk of bowel cancer

BOWEL cancer is the second deadliest form of the disease in the UK and the exact cause is still unknown.

But research has found several factors which might increase your risk of developing it.

There are several risk factors that could make your chances of developing bowel cancer more likely
There are several risk factors that could make your chances of developing bowel cancer more likely
Getty – Contributor

Sadly some of them are things that you can’t do anything about, such as age or genetics.

However others can be controlled by making some lifestyle changes.

Here are six of the factors that could put you at higher risk and how to reduce your chances of developing bowel cancer

Eating red meat

If your diet is high in red and processed meat it can increase your risk of developing bowel cancer.

A new study found that just 25g of processed meat – the equivalent to one rasher of bacon or two thirds of a sausage – everyday can raise your risk by a fifth.

That’s twice as high as previously thought after the World Health Organisation warned that 50g increased the risk of bowel cancer by 18 per cent back in 2015.

Researchers from the University of Oxford analysed the diets of half a million Brits aged 40 to 69 and followed them for an average of almost six years.

During this time, 2,609 developed bowel cancer.

Those who ate 76g of red and processed meat a day had a 20 per cent higher risk of the disease than those who ate only 21g.

Aged over 50

Around 1 in 20 people develop bowel cancer, but it is much more common in older people.

More than 80 per cent of people who get the disease are over the age of 60.

But that doesn’t rule out younger people – anyone can get develop the disease.

In fact 2,500 people under the age of 50 are diagnosed with bowel cancer every year.

That’s why it’s important to spot the signs early as 97 per cent of people diagnosed in the earliest stages will survive for five years or more.

Family history of disease

If a family member, especially a parent, sibling or child, has had bowel cancer, it could put you at higher risk of developing it.

The risk is increased further if one or more of your relatives was diagnosed or if they were under the age of 45.

There are also some rare inherited conditions associated with certain gene changes.

Almost a third of bowel cancers may be caused by a change or fault in one or more genes, which can be passed down through a family.

Experts don’t yet know which genes are involved in all cases but around one in every 20 bowel cancers is caused by a change in a gene that is known.

If you have a family history of bowel cancer you should speak to your GP who might refer you for genetic testing.

Benign bowel polyps

Growths in the bowel, called polyps, are usually not cancerous but they can develop into the disease over a period of time.

They are quite common and almost a third of the population will have at least one by the time they’re 60.

The risk of them turning into cancer depends on how many growths you have and how big they are.

That’s why the bowel cancer screening programmes across the nation are so important in spotting polyps before they become cancerous.

The Sun’s No Time 2 Lose campaign fought for the screening age in England and Wales to be lowered from 60 to 50 – as it is in Scotland.

Last August, health secretary Matt Hancock announced it would happen, however a year on and there’s still no sign of it being implemented.

Digestive disorders

People with other digestive conditions might also put them at higher risk of developing bowel cancer – and at a younger age than usual.

These include Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, which are both chronic diseases causing inflammation of the bowel.

For those with these conditions, regular check-ups should take place from about 10 years after your symptoms first develop.

Unhealthy lifestyle

Obesity has been linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer, especially in men.

It’s estimated that 11 per cent of cases in the UK are due to being overweight.

Smoking and drinking alcohol have also been linked to the disease and account for 7 per cent and 6 per cent of cases respectively.


THE Sun’s No Time 2 Lose campaign aims to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer.

And it called on the Government to lower the screening age from 60 to 50 – to bring it in line with Scotland.

Last summer, the health secretary Matt Hancock listened and agreed to start bowel cancer screening at 50 – meaning everyone in England will get a test on their 50th birthday.

A date for the roll out of screening at 50 has yet to be announced.

But the move could save more than 4,500 lives a year, experts say.

Bowel cancer is the second deadliest form of the disease, but it can be cured if it’s caught early – or better still prevented.

Caught at stage 1 – the earliest stage – patients have a 97 per cent chance of living for five years or longer.

But catch it at stage 4 – when it’s already spread – and that chance plummets to just seven per cent.

Last April, Lauren Backler, whose mum died of the disease at the age of 55, joined forces with The Sun to launch the No Time 2 Lose campaign, also supported by Bowel Cancer UK.

Lauren delivered a petition to the Department of Health complete with almost 450,000 signatures, to put pressure on the Government to change the screening age – a move that could save the NHS millions.

She believes her mum could have been saved if screening had been available – and now campaigns to ensure others don’t lose their loved ones to this potentially curable disease.

How to reduce the risk of bowel cancer…

Those risk factors may make for worrying reading – but there are ways to reduce your risk.

Scientists actually believe that around half of all bowel cancers could be prevented by simply living a healthier lifestyle.

Limiting the amount of red meat you eat and avoiding processed meat as much as possible could be a good place to start.

Dr Lisa Wilde, director of research at Bowel Cancer UK, said: “Making simple changes to your lifestyle can help stack the odds against bowel cancer.

“As well as avoiding processed foods, like bacon, ham and salami and limiting our intake of red meat, increasing our intake of wholegrains and pulses, being of a healthy weight, cutting down on alcohol, taking more exercise, and stopping smoking will make a real difference to our health in general.”

Making simple changes to your lifestyle can help stack the odds against bowel cancer

Dr Lisa WildeBowel cancer UK

Being active can help you maintain a healthy body weight which is another way of reducing your risk.

Experts recommend doing at least 30 minutes of exercise, such as a brisk walk, every day.

You should also be mindful of your calorie intake – avoid sugary snacks and drinks and be aware of portion sizes.

The recommended daily calorie intake is around 2,000 calories each day for women and 2,500 for men.

Also consider cutting out smoking and drinking alcohol – both are linked to an increased cancer risk.

Researchers have started to look at the effects of some medication to see if can lower the bowel cancer risk – but so far there is little evidence to support the claims.

One of which is statins – widely used to prevent heart attacks and strokes – but some studies suggest they may play a role in preventing bowel cancer.

Other studies have shown that people who take aspirin regularly for three years or more have a reduced risk of developing non-cancerous growths and bowel cancer.

But aspirin may also cause side effects, such as indigestion or bleeding, and it’s not clear how safe it is to take regularly.

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