Happy African American boy having fun while feeding his father in the kitchen.

As a leading cause of cancer-related death in the United States, colorectal cancer earns its place on the “avoid-at-all-costs” list. The good news: colorectal cancer also ranks as one of the most preventable diseases. Andrew Woodward, MS, RD, CSO, a Loma Linda University Cancer Center dietitian, recognizes that many look for the “magic bullet” of cancer prevention — a single food item or activity that keeps cancer at bay, but Woodward says a multi-modal approach offers the highest chance of success.

“The more pieces of the puzzle you have, the more likely you’ll be able to assemble a greater picture of understanding, and therefore experience real impact on your colorectal health,” Woodward says.

Colorectal cancer, also called colon or rectum cancer, gets its name from its inception location: the colon or rectum, respectively. Most of these cancers start as a growth, called a polyp, whose cells multiply out of control on the inner lining of the large intestine.

Woodward says the best approach to cancer is prevention. Aside from timely screening, he recommends jointly adopting a plant-based menu, establishing an emotional support system, and maintaining an active lifestyle to both help prevent colorectal cancer and to achieve a better outcome in the case of cancer onset.

Plant-based Eating

Plants boast a variety of value in the cancer-prevention shopping cart. Bursting with fiber and phytonutrients — plant nutrients — that reduce inflammation, plant foods can help fight cancer.

Valuable studies show a significantly reduced risk of colorectal cancer for those following a plant-based diet. This evidence spurs the trend that making plant foods the main course in place of animal foods increases survivorship and prevention of cancer relapse. Woodward says these compelling associations make a strong argument for a plant-based diet. Furthermore, switching to this diet presents no harmful side effects and minimal cost.

“I have seen patients get on the ball with a healthy diet and have a much better outcome with their treatment when they are empowered, inspired, and following a plant-based diet,” Woodward says.

Woodward recommends eating a diet based on legumes, nuts, seeds, cruciferous vegetables, seasonal fruit, and healthy oils. Many of these foods replace harmful foods in a diet. For example, since meat has zero fiber and often causes constipation — a risk for colorectal cancer — Woodward advises eating half a cup of cooked beans 3-5 times per week, seasoned well with spices such as onion, garlic, basil, oregano, or turmeric. Additionally, swapping processed, refined grains, such as white rice, for whole grains, like brown rice, provides an arms-reach option for combating cancer risk. Ultimately, Woodward says to eat plants any way you can.

“Enjoy the flavors and textures of different plant food preparation,” says Woodward. “Try salads, smoothies, and roasted vegetables. Find new ways to prepare familiar vegetables.”

Delicious, satisfying vegetarian recipes populate the internet.

Emotional Support

A positive, encouraging support system can significantly improve the outcome and quality of life for any cancer prognosis and certainly for keeping risk factors at bay.

Loved ones can influence the all-important screening. They can support an active lifestyle and encourage their family to eat healthfully to mitigate risk. Woodward encourages his patients to seek the support of their family members and friends in creating and maintaining healthy daily habits.

Moreover, this support group offers an emotional bolster in the case of cancer onset. Professional counseling also helps a patient work through their uncomfortable feelings. This support inspires cancer fighters.

“I am impressed with some of my patients who have stage four colon cancer. They live life with a positive attitude with good support,” Woodward says. “They have more of a will to live.”

Lifestyle of Motion

An active lifestyle does not mean hitting the gym daily in the wee hours of the morning — rather, it means intentionally moving in a way that raises the heart rate.

“Live an involved lifestyle,” Woodward says. “Sauntering in a grocery store may not make it, but any activity that feels like you’re pushing yourself just a little bit qualifies, such as a brisk walk around the neighborhood to get your steps in.”

Experts say that three hours of exercise per week dodges up to 60% of colon cancer recurrences. Woodward recommends breaking these hours up into small, regular portions. This consistent activity helps bowel motility, strengthens the immune system and ultimately supports the cells in the colon to fend off cancer invasion.

“Some of my patients live far longer than expected, despite severe prognosis,” says Woodward. “I think a big part of that is because of their very active lifestyles.”

Woodward says the more time a person invests in their health — eating well, reading food labels, being active, engaging in positive support — the more puzzle pieces that person can draw from to prevent colon cancer in the first place and to have a better outcome if they do get colon cancer.

Talk to your primary care provider about your colorectal cancer risk factors and screening options. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with colorectal cancer, you can trust the experts at Loma Linda University Cancer Center to provide the personalized care you need. To learn more, visit the program’s webpage or call 800-782-2623.