According to the Cleveland Clinic, more than 130,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2020 in the United States alone. Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in men, and the second in women. This type of cancer is more common in older adults, but there are many things you can start doing now to lower your risk of colon cancer.
How to prevent colon cancer: Everything you need to know
Colorectal cancer occurs when cells in the lining of the colon or rectum grow abnormally and uncontrollably, which results in the development of a malignant tumor (or tumors) in this portion of the large intestine.
Unfortunately, there’s no infallible way to make sure you can prevent cancer, and many different factors play a role in your personal risk for different types of cancer. However, there are certain strategies and lifestyle modifications that can help lower your cancer risk, including colon or colorectal cancer.
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Colon cancer risk factors
Colorectal cancer risk factors can be divided into modifiable and non-modifiable. As their name suggests, non-modifiable risks are those that you can’t change. According to the Mayo Clinic, non-modifiable or unavoidable risk factors for colon cancer include:
- Older age
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- A personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
- Genetic disorders such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome
Modifiable risk factors, on the other hand, are the ones that can be changed through your behaviors and lifestyle habits. These risk factors include:
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Low intake of fruit and vegetables
- A diet that is low in fiber and high in fats and/or processed meats
- Excessive alcohol consumption
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Now, let’s discuss what you can do in your everyday life to prevent colon cancer.
Ways to lower your colon cancer risk
Some things you can implement into your lifestyle to lower your risk of colon cancer include:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a healthy diet
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Stop smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Get screened
Maintain a healthy weight
Obesity is possibly the most important non-modifiable risk factor for colorectal cancer. According to a study published in the journal Gut, data suggests that obesity could increase the risk of colorectal cancer by 30 to 70 percent in men and women. Seeking guidance from a licensed dietitian can be very helpful if you’re trying to reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Eat a healthy diet
As we mentioned above, eating a diet that doesn’t include enough fruits and vegetables, but is high in fats and processed meats can increase your colon cancer risk. To combat this risk, the organization Bowel Cancer UK recommends that you eat a diet that includes:
- Whole grains
- Nuts and seeds
- Limited amounts of red meat and processed meats
In addition to lowering your risk of colon cancer, these foods can also help prevent other diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. Eating healthy foods and appropriate portion sizes can also help you maintain a healthy weight.
Limit your alcohol intake
In most cases, moderate alcohol intake is unlikely to cause any health problems. Moderate alcohol use is defined as no more than 2 units of alcohol per day for men, and no more than 1 unit of alcohol per day for women.
However, it’s important to steer clear of excessive alcohol intake, which can increase your risk of many different health issues. According to the American Cancer Society, alcohol use has been linked to a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
People who smoke tobacco have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer and even dying from this disease. According to a study published by the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, people who smoked at some point in their lives are 18 percent more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who have never smoked. Smoking can increase your risk for many other diseases, so it’s always a good idea to quit tobacco!
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Regular exercise has many benefits for our physical and emotional wellbeing, including a lower risk of colorectal cancer. According to a study published in the journal Current Sports Medicine, research has found a clear link between exercise and a reduction in cases of colon cancer. Numerous studies have found that exercise reduces this risk regardless of gender, ethnicity, and place of origin.
It’s recommended that healthy adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise or 75 minutes of intense aerobic exercise per week, in addition to muscle strengthening activities
If you have certain risk factors for colon cancer, your doctor could suggest regular screening procedures. Colorectal cancer screening allows your healthcare provider to catch any precancerous or cancerous changes in their early stages so you can receive treatment as quickly as possible.
According to the CDC, people with an average risk of colon cancer should start screening at age 45. Screening tests look for polyps, which are benign lesions that can turn into cancerous lesions over time. If your doctor finds polyps during your screening procedure, they could remove them during the same procedure to prevent this from happening.
Colorectal cancer is still very common amongst both men and women. But the good news is that healthy lifestyle habits and screening can help lower your risk of developing this disease, while also improving your overall quality of life and health.
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- How to Prevent Colorectal Cancer - health.clevelandclinic.org
- Reducing your risk for colon cancer - mayoclinichealthsystem.org
- Obesity and colorectal cancer - pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Diet - bowelcanceruk.org.uk
- Six Ways to Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer - cancer.org
- Cigarette Smoking and Colorectal Cancer Risk by Molecularly Defined Subtypes - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Exercise and Colon Cancer Primary and Secondary Prevention - journals.lww.com
- What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Colorectal Cancer? - cdc.gov