Amrit Singh, M.B.B.S.
Hematology (Blood), Oncology (Cancer)
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Colorectal cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon) or the rectum. The best way to reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer is to follow your health care provider's recommended screening schedule. This may include a colonoscopy or other screening methods, beginning at around age 45. The American Cancer Society recently lowered the age to start screening to 45 after research showed that new cases of colorectal cancer are occurring at an increasing rate among younger adults. However, people with an increased risk should get screened sooner. Talk to your doctor about your colon cancer screening options. Learn what to expect before, during and after a colonoscopy.
Colorectal cancer risk factors
The exact cause of colorectal cancer remains unknown, but there are proven risk factors for the disease. You can change your lifestyle to avoid certain risks, but there are some that you cannot prevent.
Unavoidable colorectal cancer risk factors include:
- Older age
- Personal or family history of colon polyps
- Family history of colon cancer
- Race (African Americans are at greater risk.)
- Inflammatory intestinal conditions, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease
Avoidable colorectal risk factors include:
People who are obese have an increased risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer.
- Unhealthy diet
Colorectal cancer may be associated with a diet low in fiber, and high in calories and fat.
People who smoke cigarettes are at an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
- Lack of exercise
If you're inactive, you're more likely to develop colorectal cancer. Exercising regularly may reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.
- Drinking alcohol in excess
Heavy alcohol consumption can increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
It's important to note that most colorectal cancer is found in people without a family history of colon cancer. People with a family history have an increased risk of developing the disease, but it is not the only risk factor that should be considered when assessing individual risk. Take a colon cancer risk quiz.
Colorectal cancer prevention
- Eat your veggies and healthy fats.
Research has shown that the Western diet correlates to higher colon cancer rates. People who eat high-fiber diets are less likely to develop the disease. Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, which may play a role in cancer prevention. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables so that you get an array of vitamins and nutrients.
- Get moving.
You know exercise benefits your heart and can help you maintain your weight. It also may lower your risk of developing some types of cancer, including colon cancer. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week.
- Watch your weight.
Carrying extra pounds increases your risk of colon cancer, as well as cancers of the breast (in postmenopausal women), rectum, esophagus, pancreas and kidney, among others, according to the American Cancer Society. Talk to your provider if you need help losing weight.
- Limit alcohol and don't smoke.
If you choose to drink alcohol, do so moderately. That means no more than one drink a day for women or two drinks a day for men. And if you smoke, quit. Your provider can offer tips or refer you to a program to help you stop.