MANILA, Philippines—Five fist-sized servings of fruits and vegetables daily, avoiding steaks and skipping barbecued and processed meats can help keep your gut healthy and cancer-free.
The Department of Health on Wednesday issued this strong reminder to Filipinos—many of whom are eaters of red meat—to mark the culmination of the National Colorectal Awareness Month, which is observed globally in March.
In a press conference, Health Secretary Enrique Ona underscored the country’s need to pay more attention to this type of cancer as it has ranked 4th among the common cancers affecting Filipinos.
In 2010 alone, 5,787 Filipinos were reported to have been diagnosed with or treated for colorectal cancer.
The figure, which was derived from the database of the Philippine Cancer Society, reimbursement records from Philhealth and other “selected sources,” may go even higher as it merely represented reported cases, Ona told reporters.
“We want to make sure that the people are knowledgeable about this serious noncommunicable disease … what they should know and what they can do to curb the incidence of [colorectal cancer],” said Ona.
Dr. Dennis Tudtud of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology also noted on Wednesday that even if the cancer has afflicted notable persons, like the late President Corazon Aquino, it has not yet reached the level of public awareness that has been gained by the “more celebrated malignancy,” which is breast cancer.
“The late President Cory Aquino had this disease but still it did not reach the level of awareness and commitment as breast cancer have … maybe because it is something to do with [fecal matter],” Tudtud said at the press briefing at the DOH office in Manila.
Among the other key personalities that had been diagnosed with the cancer were Blessed Pope John Paul II, US President Ronald Reagan, Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn and Peanuts creator Charles Schulz.
While the illness affects more men than women, people aged 50 and above are vulnerable to colorectal cancer and one of four of them may have polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, a precursor of colon cancer.
Other risk factors include family history of colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer of breast cancer.
Tudtud said high intake of red or processed and barbecued meats, obesity or excess fat around the waist, smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol and a sedentary lifestyle were among the risk factors that can be controlled.
Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes, kicking the smoking habit, cutting intake of red meat like steak and increasing consumption of fiber-rich vegetables and fruits will help prevent the disease.
The ideal intake of fruits and vegetables should be at least five servings a day, said Dr. Felycette Martinez-Lapus, president of the Philippine Society of Medical Oncology. “A serving is equivalent to the size of a fist.”
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include constipation, intermittent constipation and diarrhea, change in bowel habit, blood in stool, weight loss, fever, loss of appetite, extreme tiredness, nausea and vomiting, jaundice, abdominal discomfort, gas pains or cramps.
Rectal bleeding or anemia may also occur in persons over 50 years old.
Lapus said Filipinos must modify their lifestyle in order to prevent the disease.
“We want to focus on the prevention,” she said. Chemotherapy treatment of colorectal cancer can range from roughly P30,000 to P50,000 while diagnostic tests and surgery can cost between P100,000 and P150,000.