Reducing Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer
by Michelle Badash, MS
A risk factor is something that increases your chances of developing cancer. Some risk factors cannot be changed, such as family history or genetics. Fortunately, many other risk factors can be modified.
Know Your Family History
Colorectal cancer tends run in families because of its genetic components. If more than 1 close relative has developed colon cancer before age 60, you may be at increased risk. You may also be at risk if anyone in your family has been diagnosed with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome.
If you have a strong family history of the disease, your doctor may recommend that you have an early colonoscopy. Depending on the results, you may need to have testing on a more frequent basis.
Manage Polyps with Regular Screening
Some people are more likely to develop polyps. Not all polyps will turn into cancer. Still, it is important to have a screening and treatment plans in those with history of polyps. The removal of the polyps significantly reduces the risk of colon cancer.
Eat a Healthful Diet
Eating a high-fiber diet has been associated with lower risk of colorectal and other cancers. Fiber is found in all plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes. High consumption of red meat is also linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. Substituting red meat with fish, chicken, or pork may decrease the risk.
Specific foods may also help to lower the risk of colorectal cancer. These foods include onions, garlic, and cruciferous vegetables like kale, cabbage, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and radishes.
Good nutrition also supports your body's immune system which can help decrease your risk of any cancer.
Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Aim for 30 minutes per day on most days of the week. Exercise will also help you lose and/or maintain weight, and boost your immune system.
Talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program. Start out slowly, then increase your activity level a little at a time. If you need help with an exercise program, consider joining a gym with a certified trainer.
Lose Excess Weight
Obesity is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer. Weight loss takes time and there is no quick fix. Give yourself time to make adjustments to your diet. Portion control, combined with healthy food choices, will get you started on the right track. You can also increase your calorie loss by increasing your physical activity level. Regular exercise will help you meet your weight loss goals. If you need to lose weight, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian who can help you do so slowly and safely.
Smoking introduces a variety of harmful chemicals into your body. Quitting smoking is an important step in preventing colorectal and other cancers. The sooner smoking is stopped, the sooner your body can start to heal. Talk to your doctor about the options available to help you successfully quit.
Drink Alcohol Only in Moderation
Excess alcohol intake is associated with an increased risk for colorectal cancer. Drink alcohol in moderation, which is 1 drink or less per day for women and 2 drinks or less per day for men.
Talk to Your Doctor About the Benefits of Aspirin
Some studies have found a link between aspirin use and reduced rates of colorectal cancer. Since taking aspirin can have side effects, including gastrointestinal bleeding, talk to your doctor before starting any aspirin therapy.
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Last reviewed December 2019 by Mohei Abouzied, MD
Last Updated: 2/27/2020
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