Top 5 ways to prevent colon cancer

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, is a devastating disease that happens in the colon or rectum. It’s the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in both men and women in the US.

Colorectal cancer usually starts with polyps in the colon or rectum, because over time polyps, which shouldn’t be there, can turn cancerous.

Most cases of colon cancer are found in people over the age of 50, but it can happen in men and women at any age. Colon cancer is highly treatable, and when it’s found early, treatment is most effective.

Unfortunately, the majority of colon cancers are not found early.

How do I prevent colon cancer?

There are many things you can do to help prevent colon cancer. Here are five things you can do to reduce your risk.

1. Get screened

Screenings can help prevent the cancer by finding polyps in the colon before they can become cancerous and spread to surrounding tissue or distant organs. It can take up to 15 years for colon cancer to develop from the first time abnormal cells begin to develop in polyps.

If everyone age 50 and older got screened for colon cancer, experts predict about half of all colon cancer deaths in the U.S. could be prevented.

Screening options

A screening program may include:

  • Annual fecal occult blood testing
  • Colonoscopy every 5-10 years
  • Stool DNA testing
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
  • Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years
  • Virtual colonoscopy (CT colonoscopy) every 5 years

Learn more about these tests here.

2. Maintain a healthy weight

Obesity increases your risk for colon cancer in both men and women. Losing weight by eating a healthy diet full of plants and becoming physically active may help reduce your risk.

Diets rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains are linked to a lower colon cancer risk, while diets high in red meat and processed meats in increase your risk.

3. Limit how much alcohol you drink

Research whose heavy alcohol use is linked to colorectal cancer, possibly because heavy drinkers tend to have low levels of folic acid.

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

4. Quit smoking

A study by the American Cancer Society published in 2009 found that long-term cigarette smoking is linked to a higher risk for colon cancer. Current and former smokers were more likely to develop the cancer than lifelong nonsmokers, and the risk goes up the longer a person smokes. In fact, in the study, those who smoked for 40 years or more or who did not quit before age 40 had up to a 50 percent greater risk of developing colon cancer.

5. Talk to your health provider

A personal history of colorectal polyps, inflammatory bowel disease and a family history of colorectal cancer are all risk factors for colon cancer that your health provider should know about, that way you and your doctor can develop a prevention and screening plan that’s right for you.

Additional Resources