Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

The most effective way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is by getting screened. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people at average risk start getting screened for colorectal cancer at age 45.

Typically, colorectal cancers start with polyps. These can be in the colon for a long time before any type of cancer develops. People who have polyps often don’t have any symptoms. And if symptoms do appear, it may not be until the polyps have become cancer and started to spread, making it harder to treat.

That’s why screenings are so important. They can help find the polyps early, before you have symptoms. Then they can be removed before they become cancer. And if cancer has developed, screenings can help catch it early.

Other Ways to Lower Your Risk

In addition to getting screened, there are lifestyle changes that can help lower your risk of colorectal cancer. 

Diet
Eating a diet that’s low in processed meats and animal fats and high in fiber may help lower your risk. You can get more fiber in your diet by eating vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. And if you drink alcohol, drink in moderationleaving site icon 

Other Healthy Choices
Maintain a healthy weight. Excess body fat, especially around the middle, can increase your risk.

Lack of physical activity can increase your risk, so exercise regularly. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.

And avoid smoking and using other tobacco products.

Learn the Signs and Symptoms

Not all people with colorectal cancer have the same symptoms or any symptoms. But there are some symptoms to watch for:

  • Anemia, which causes symptoms such as weakness, excessive fatigue and sometimes shortness of breath
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Blood in the stool or in the toilet after having a bowel movement
  • Dark or black stools
  • A change in bowel habits or the shape of the stool that isn’t caused by a change in diet
  • An urge to have a bowel movement when the bowel is empty
  • Abdominal pain that doesn’t go away
  • Unexplained weight loss
Talk About Your Family History

If colorectal cancer runs in your family, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor. A family history of colorectal cancer can increase your risk. Your doctor may recommend that you start getting screened early.

Sources: What can I do to reduce my risk of colorectal cancer?, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2021; What Are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?, leaving site icon CDC, 2021; How can I prevent colorectal cancer?, leaving site icon Fight Colorectal Cancer; What type of eating plan is best to prevent colon polyps?, leaving site icon National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2017; Colorectal Cancer Prevention – Key points, leaving site icon National Cancer Institute, 2021; Can colorectal cancer be prevented?, leaving site icon American Cancer Society, 2020

Originally published 2/25/2019; Revised 2022

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