Study proves exercise reduces risk of colon cancer

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Dr. Eric Hurowitz, a gastroenterologist with The Scarborough Hospital since 1987, practices what he preaches by incorporating regular exercise in his daily routine as a way to cut the risk of colon cancer. “My mother and her sister suffered from colon cancer. My sister and I can avoid a similar fate by doing the right things,” Dr. Hurowitz says.

The right things include regular exercise. He runs 40 minutes a day, six days a week on a treadmill or outside, followed by 20 minutes of stretches, weights and machines. And it’s a family affair. “My wife Beth (a family physician) and I go to the gym together three or four times a week,” Dr. Hurowitz adds. “We are happy when our two teenagers exercise with us, but just as happy when they do it with their friends or on their own. We’ve learned that setting an example and making it fun is more important than setting a stressful regime that’s a drag for them. Now, they ask to go to the fitness club or for a jog outside as often as we offer up the opportunity.”

Dr. Hurowitz points to a new study out of the U.S. that offers compelling evidence to back the long-standing belief that exercise can help reduce the risk of colon cancer. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine and Harvard University combined and analyzed several decades’ worth of data from past studies on how exercise affects colon cancer risk. They found that people who exercised the most were 24 per cent less likely to develop the disease than those who exercised the least. They analyzed 52 studies going back as far as 1984, making their analysis the most comprehensive to date.

“Colon cancer is a diagnosis of neglect. No one should get colon cancer nowadays, given that we have enough effective strategies and tools to make it completely preventable,” Dr. Hurowitz adds. “It begs us to try and figure out the best strategies to achieve that. Certainly, regular exercise and screening help reduce the incidence of colon cancer.”

Once a taboo subject, colon cancer is now “out of the closet primarily because we have the tools to identify what happens before it occurs,” he explains. “People have this misconception that colon cancer is more prevalent now, but in fact, it’s no more common today than it was 20 years ago. If anything, it’s actually a bit less. “At the same time, the diagnostic tools of the future will be a lot more sophisticated. What we’re using now – putting telescopes in people’s bowels – will be regarded as very primitive. We’ll be laughing about it 20 or 25 years from now.”

Colorectal cancer continues to be the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Canada. An estimated 21,500 Canadians are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year, and 8,900 will die from it.