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How to Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer — which includes both colon and rectal cancer — occurs when cells in the colon and/or rectum begin to grow out of control. The colon and rectum are parts of the large intestine, which is in turn part of the digestive system. Colorectal cancers tend to begin as growths, known as polyps, on the inner lining of the colon or rectum. While not all polyps become cancerous, some can develop into cancer over time, usually several years. If not treated, a cancerous polyp can grow into the wall of the colon or rectum and then spread.

While colorectal cancers are one of the most common types of cancers and the third leading cause of death from cancer in America, there are steps you can take to help prevent colorectal cancer.

What do we mean by colorectal cancer prevention?

Cancer prevention involves taking any action that may lower your chances of developing cancer. By taking these steps, we hope to lower the number of cases of cancer, and therefore, the number of deaths that result from cancer. Cancer prevention involves both risk factors — which increase your chance of getting cancer — and protective factors — which decrease your chances of developing cancer.

Many risk factors are within our control and can be avoided through colorectal cancer prevention, but others cannot be avoided and are inherent to a patient. For example, men are more likely than women to develop colorectal cancer.

Risk factors we can’t control include:

  • Family history: If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, especially of the first degree (for example, a parent, sibling or child), you are at higher risk of developing the disease.
  • Personal history: If you have a history of colorectal cancer or polyps, you’re more likely to develop colorectal cancer again.
  • Other health risks: If you have personal experience with ovarian cancer or chronic inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis, you are at greater risk of getting colon or rectal cancer.
  • Age: Your risk of developing colorectal cancer increases after age 50.
  • Race: African Americans have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Risk factors we can control include the following:

  • Lifestyle and eating habits: A diet with excessive red meats and processed meats increases your risk of colorectal cancer, as does a diet with low vitamin D
  • Obesity: There is a correlation between obesity and increased rates of colon cancer, so working to achieve and maintain a healthy weight helps decrease the risk of developing colon cancer.
  • Avoiding habits known to cause cancer: Excessive alcohol consumption (more than three drinks per day) and smoking cigarettes have both been proven to increase your risk of cancers like colorectal cancer
  • Medications: Some studies have shown a connection between certain antibiotics and an increased risk of colon cancer, while others decrease your risks

Steps to prevent colon cancer

Because there are certain preventive factors that are within our control and can help prevent colorectal cancer, they should be incorporated into our lives, and not just when we are at risk of colorectal cancer, but from a young age. You should include the following preventive factors in your routine:

Get screened

Colon cancer prevention begins with regular screening after age 50. Obtaining regular screenings through a colonoscopy, stool test or special screening x-ray is the most important prevention method.

Screening for colon cancer can help identify the disease before symptoms arise, which is integral as symptoms don’t usually appear until the colorectal cancer is advanced. If polyps are found during a screening, they can be removed, which decreases your chances of developing colorectal cancer.

Depending on your age, medical history and preferences, your doctor may schedule a variety of different screenings, including:

  • FOBT/FIT tests, which test your stool for blood (an indicator of colorectal cancer)
  • Colonoscopy, which uses a small camera to view the entire inside of your colon and rectum to look for polyps
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy, which uses a small camera to view the lower portion of the inside of your colon and rectum to look for polyps
  • Virtual colonoscopy, which uses a CT scan to takes images of the interior of your colon and rectum to look for polyps

Eat well

A diet high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains is an important part if colorectal cancer prevention.

Exercise regularly

Those who are physically active and get regular exercise decrease their risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity has been proven to increase your risks of developing colon cancer. Eating healthier and exercising regularly can help maintain a healthy weight and decrease your chances of colorectal cancer.

Limit red and processed meats

A diet high in red or processed meats has been shown to increase your risk, and reducing your consumption of these meats can help prevent colorectal cancer.

Do not smoke

Smoking cigarettes is one of the most well-known risk factors of colorectal cancer, and stopping smoking can help lower your risk.

Avoid alcohol

Excessive consumption of alcohol—three or more drinks a day—increases your risk of developing colon or rectal cancer. Limiting your consumption of alcohol can help decrease this risk.

Get enough vitamins, calcium and magnesium

Some studies have shown that diets high in calcium, vitamins and magnesium may aid in colorectal cancer prevention.


Some studies have shown that those who regularly take aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are also at lower risk of developing colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer prevention at AnMed Health

At AnMed Health, we strive to help patients understand their unique risk factors for colorectal cancer and develop specialized plans to help with their colorectal cancer prevention. With access to advanced colorectal cancer screenings and a team of oncological experts, AnMed Health provides every patient with individualized colorectal cancer care and prevention. 

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