Colon Cancer & Sitting


The New York Times Well Blog discusses an alarming trend:

Incidences of colorectal cancer have been decreasing by about 1 percent a year since the mid 1980s, but incidences among people under 50 — the recommended screening age — has been increasing sharply, and these younger patients are more likely to present with advanced disease.


The article discusses findings published in JAMA. This information strikes close to my wife and I. Someone in her professional world has been diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. He is relatively young, not overweight and he has been moderately active. This has been a shock to a lot of people and we’re very sad for him and his family.

This situation makes me think about the research on sitting. Prolonged Sitting May Increase Risk of Certain Cancers is an article in Scientific American. The article states:

“The more time people spend sitting, the higher their risk of certain types of cancer, according to a new review of previous studies.

Researchers found that, with each 2-hour increase in people’s sitting time per day, their risk of colon cancer increased by 8 percent, and women’s risk of endometrial cancer increased by 10 percent.”

The person we know with colon cancer is a successful computer guy and he is very passionate and dedicated to his field of expertise and that’s dictated that he sits a lot. (I’m not placing blame on him, simply noting my observations as they relate to this data.) The Scientific American article also says,

“The results were independent of physical activity, showing that sedentary behavior represents a potential cancer risk factor, distinct from physical inactivity,” study author Dr. Daniela Schmid, of the University of Regensburg in Germany, told Live Science in an email.

So it seems that we can’t out-exercise our sitting habit. Sitting is a hazardous activity in and of itself. I am morbidly fascinated that modern humans have virtually eliminated threats such as animal predators and infectious disease from our lives, only to replace them with something like sitting. To me that’s solid proof that the creator of the universe is possessed of a real wacko sense of humor.

I have one question about the sitting-causes-cancer factor: What about bicycling? Is it literally putting my butt on a solid object that increases my risk or is it the staying still for hours on end? What if desk-bound workers were to somehow lay down for their work. Would the cancer risk also rise? My guess is that it’s being sedentary for hours and hours that’s the problem and that riding a bike is not carcinogenic. I’m also betting that someone is researching all of this and we’ll get some sort of answer soon.

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