Put it to the test

Driving truck has many perks. It’s interesting – no two days are the same. There’s variety – changing scenes through changing seasons. And independence – you make decisions about loads and routes.

Unfortunately, driving truck also brings the risk of developing health issues. One serious condition that is often overlooked is colorectal cancer. The term “colorectal cancer” refers to cancer affecting the colon (large intestine) or the rectum (the last several inches of the large intestine, which ends at the anus).

In 2017, the Canadian Cancer Society stated that colorectal cancer is currently the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada.

Truck drivers are particularly susceptible since, according to a recent study from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), men who sit for four or more hours a day increase their risk of colorectal cancer by 35%.

Other factors may also impact your risk – some within your control, and some outside.

Risk factors you should be aware of but cannot control include: older age – 50 years and above; ethnicity – African-American heritage; past personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps; inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, etc.; inherited gene mutations – Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, or MAP (MYH-associated polyposis); Type 2 diabetes; or radiation therapy for previous cancer treatment.

However, risk factors under your control include: activity level; smoking; regular alcohol consumption; obesity; and/or dietary factors, particularly a diet that is low in fruits and vegetables, or high in red meats (beef, pork, lamb, or liver), processed meats (bacon, wieners, and cold cuts), or meats cooked at a very high temperature (fried, broiled or grilled). According to recent studies, even regularly working through the night may be a risk factor.

Since early colorectal cancer diagnosis is vital, it is important to recognize these common symptoms: iron deficiency anemia; unexplained weight loss; weakness or fatigue; dizziness; shortness of breath; unusual skin pallor; cramps; abdominal pain; painful bowel movements; narrow stool; feeling your bowel hasn’t entirely emptied; and a change in bowel habits, including constipation, diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements; mucous, or dark or red blood in stool.

Monitor your bowel movements, since the American College of Gastroenterology says it’s not uncommon for patients
to bleed internally for up to six months before anything shows up in their stool.

Prevention is key. You can lower your risk by as much as 45% just by maintaining a healthy diet, weight, and exercise routine. Here are some steps you can take immediately. Limit your red meat to three four-ounce servings per week. Cut back on sugar to help retain a healthy weight and moderate blood sugar levels. Limit foods that are high in saturated fat as they slow down the digestive process. Instead, increase polyunsaturated fats from wild salmon, milled flaxseed, walnuts, and plant-based oils, such as olive or canola oil.

Also, increase your fiber to 25-35 grams each day through fiber-rich foods such as apples, pears, raspberries, bananas, oranges, artichoke, peas, broccoli, corn, legume, and whole grains, especially barley, quinoa, whole grain flour, wild or brown rice, and oatmeal.

Increase your calcium and Vitamin D intake by drinking milk, eating dark, leafy greens, like spinach, collard greens and kale. Choose foods high in beta-carotene and Vitamin B6, including: carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and summer squash.

Following a consistent eating schedule will encourage regular bowel movements. Stay hydrated to allow your bulky stools to pass easily. Keep all your abdominal muscles functioning well by exercising regularly.

If you’re over 50, schedule a colorectal screening test. If detected early, up to 95% of colorectal cancers are curable, according to the Colon Cancer Foundation. Colon cancer is a largely treatable condition. For colorectal cancer, we have a test, it is not complicated, and it is extremely effective in catching it early.

For your continued health, don’t skip this test.

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Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant. 

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