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Health & Exercise Forum

Prevent Colon Cancer through Exercise

Mar 9, 2015


 In 2000, President Bill Clinton dedicated March as National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. The purpose of this designation is to increase public awareness about the facts about colon cancer. It is preventable, treatable and has a high survival rate. Regular screening tests, expert medical care and a healthy lifestyle, which includes a proper diet and exercise, are essential for success. Several studies have demonstrated that exercise can help prevent colon cancer.

The American Cancer Society estimates that approximately 136,830 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2014. Of these, 50,310 men and women will succumb to the disease. It is the second leading cause of US cancer deaths for men and women combined. Northeastern PA has been fortunate to have an active colon cancer awareness program with the help of some very visible members of the community. On a personal level this disease has had a great impact on me because my father, Paul Mackarey, was diagnosed with colon cancer 25 years ago. Fortunately, with great medical care, numerous prayers and endless support from family and friends, he is a proud survivor as a healthy 90-year-old who winters in Florida with my mother. This experience has had a great influence on my lifestyle: daily exercise, low-fat vegetarian diet, nonsmoker, moderate drinker, and colonoscopy screening every 3 years since age 35.

Early detection is the key to survival. Colorectal cancer progresses very slowly, usually over years. It often begins as non-cancerous polyps in the lining of the colon. In some cases, these polyps can grow and become cancerous, often without any symptoms. Some symptoms that may develop are: blood in stool, changes in bowel movement, feeling bloated, unexplained weight loss, feeling tired easily, abdominal pain or cramps, and vomiting. Contact your physician if you have any of these symptoms.

The risk of colon cancer increases with age, as 90% of those diagnosed are over 50 years old. A family history of colon cancer increases risk. Also, those with benign polyps, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease are at greater risk and should be screened more frequently.

Exercise and Colon Cancer:

While there have been many studies about the benefits of exercise for colon cancer, none have been more encouraging than a recent study from the Hutchinson Cancer Institute in Seattle. Patients with abnormal cells on the lining of their colons as found by colonoscopy, demonstrated positive changes and reversal of these cells after engaging in 4 hours of exercise per week for one year. Some studies have shown that exercise can reduce the risk of colon cancer by 50%.


How Exercise Prevents Colon Cancer:

The intestine works like a sewage plant recycling food and liquid needed by your body. However, it also stores waste prior to disposal. The longer the wastes remains idle in your colon or rectum, the more time toxins have to be absorbed from you waste into the surrounding tissues. One method in which exercise may help prevent colon cancer is to get your body moving, including your intestines. Exercise stimulates muscular contraction called peristalsis to promote movement of waste through your colon.

Exercise to prevent colon cancer does not have to be extreme. A simple increase in daily activity for 15 minutes 2 times per day or 30 minutes 1 time per day is adequate to improve the movement of waste through your colon. This can be simply accomplished by walking, swimming, biking, and playing golf, tennis, or basketball. For those interested in a more traditional exercise regimen, perform aerobic exercise for 30-45 minutes 4-5 days per week with additional sports and activities for the remainder of the time. For those in poor physical condition, begin slowly. Start walking for 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times per day. Then, add 1-2 minutes each week until you attain a 30-45 minute goal.

Prevention of Colon Cancer:

  • Colonoscopy – is the most accurate screening test for detecting polyps and colorectal cancer. A long, thin, flexible tube with a camera is used to visually examine the lining of the colon. Polyps can be removed at the time of the exam if necessary. While most people should have this test by 45 or 50, some high-risk people may begin at 40-45 or earlier.
  • Exercise – as described above is an essential component of colon cancer prevention and overall wellness.
  • Diet & Nutrition – limit high-fat foods especially from animal sources. Limit red meat and dairy. A diet consisting of fish, fruit and vegetables is valuable. Some researchers theorize that Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cabbage may trigger a chemical process to turn on a gene to suppress tumors. Sunlight and vitamin D are thought to be important too.
  • Lifestyle & Personal Habits-- Smoking and excessive alcohol use increases risk for colorectal cancer and other forms of cancer. Stress and anxiety can be cancer triggers.


Source: American Cancer Society

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.

NEXT MONDAY – Read Dr. Paul J. Mackarey “Health & Exercise Forum”  in the Scranton Times-Tribune.

This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email:

Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College.