Regional Health
March 13, 2018

Some quick things that may reduce your risk.

Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in the United States. Some people have a genetic predisposition, or a higher risk, of developing the disease because of their family history. That is a risk factor that cannot be changed, but there are other things within your control that can help reduce the risk of developing it. In particular, research shows that these 7 steps may significantly cut your chances of getting colorectal cancer.

1. Get Regular Screenings

The causes of most cancers are not known, but it is possible to prevent many future cases of colorectal cancer by finding and removing polyps that could become cancerous. Research has shown that polyps can take up to 10-15 years to develop into colorectal cancer, so early detection can vastly improve survival rates.1

If there are no symptoms and no prior family history of colorectal cancer, many doctors recommend that both men and women at average risk should have one of the following screening options starting at age 50:

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
  • CT colonography every 5 years
  • Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years
  • MR colonography every 5 years
  • Stool DNA test every 3 years
  • Annual fecal occult blood test (FOBT)
  • Annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT)

Anyone with a relative who has a history of colorectal cancer, or those who have any of the following risk factors, should seek screening earlier:

  • African American or Native American ancestry
  • Strong family history of colon or rectal cancer, or polyps
  • Family history of hereditary colon or rectal cancer syndromes
  • History of colon or rectal cancer, or adenomatous polyps
  • History of chronic inflammatory bowel disease

Guidelines recommend a screening at age 40 or at 10 years younger than the earliest age at which a relative developed colorectal cancer, whichever is younger. With inherited forms of colon cancer, if a close relative had the disease before age 60 you are at an increased risk of developing it, as well.

If you have a personal history of colorectal cancer or other gastrointestinal conditions, like Crohn’s disease, regular screenings should take place no matter what your age. When colon cancer is detected early, the 5-year survival rate is about 90%. Once the cancer spreads outside of the colon, though, survival rates are lower.1

2. Do Not Smoke

Smoking is a contributing factor for many diseases and conditions. Quitting smoking may greatly reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor about programs and other options to help you kick the smoking habit.

3. Eat A Healthy Diet

Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in red meats is believed to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. This includes limiting processed meats like hot dogs, sausage, and lunchmeats. Be sure to get enough fiber in your diet; for every 10 grams of fiber that is consumed daily, about the size of a cup of beans, the risk of colorectal cancer may be reduced by 10 percent.2 Other high fiber foods include raspberries, apples and pears, whole wheat pasta, cooked barley, bran flakes, and oatmeal.

4. Exercise Regularly

Be physically active by doing moderate exercise at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. Any activity that increases the heart rate, such as a quick walk, can help to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer.

5. Watch Your Alcohol Intake

Avoiding alcohol or drinking it in moderation—a maximum of 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women—can help decrease the risk of colorectal cancer. A single drink is equal to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of 80-proof hard liquor.

6. Maintain A Healthy Weight

Research by The American Cancer Society shows that “being overweight or obese increases the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women.” The link appears to be stronger in men and, in particular, belly fat puts people at increased risk. As a result, it is especially important to avoid added weight in the midsection.

7. Take A Low Dose Aspirin.1

Some studies suggest that taking a daily aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drug may help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer by up to 20%.3 Anti-inflammatory medication also carries the risk of creating gastrointestinal bleeding or ulcers, so it is not a solution for everyone. For those at increased risk of colorectal cancer, though, the benefit may outweigh the risk.


1American Cancer Society®: American Cancer Society's site
2American Institute for Cancer Research:  AICR's website
3Harvard University: Harvard Health

If you are exhibiting symptoms of colon cancer, please consult your physician immediately. Dr. Shail Sheth, with Regional Health Gastroenterology can help with diagnosis and treatment. To schedule an appointment call the office at (812) 234-5400 or click below to book an appointment online.

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