Six Ways to Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

Written By:Medical Content Team

Editor’s Note: Guidelines on diet and physical activity are updated as scientific evidence continues to evolve. Please read the most recent recommendations here.

senior couple talk while chopping vegetables at kitchen counter

Colorectal cancer is one of the more common cancers in the US. About 1 in 25 people in the United States will develop colon or rectal cancer at some point during their lifetime. But there are things you can do to help lower your risk.

Here are 6 ways to help protect your colorectal health.

  1. Get screened for colorectal cancer. Screenings are tests that look for cancer before signs and symptoms develop. These tests can find colon or rectal cancer earlier, when treatments are more likely to be successful. The American Cancer Society recommends testing starting at age 45 for people at average risk. Some colorectal screening tests can also find and remove precancerous growths (polyps) in the colon or rectum. Polyps are not cancer, but over time cancer can start in the polyps. Removing them lowers the risk of cancer.  Talk to your health care provider about when you should start screening and which tests might be right for you.
  2. Eat lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Diets that include lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains have been linked with a decreased risk of colon or rectal cancer. Also, eat less red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs and some luncheon meats), which have been linked with an increased risk of colorectal cancer.
  3. Get regular exercise. If you are not physically active, you may have a greater chance of developing colorectal cancer. Being more active may help reduce your risk. Learn more about how to meet diet and exercise goals at cancer.org/foodandfitness.
  4. Take control of your weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of getting and dying from colon or rectal cancer. Eating healthier and increasing your physical activity can help you control your weight.
  5. Don’t smoke. Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colon or rectal cancer. If you smoke and you want to quit, or know someone else who does, see the American Cancer Society guide to quitting tobacco, or call us at 1-800-227-2345. Getting help increases your chances of quitting successfully.
  6. Avoid alcohol. Alcohol use has been linked with a higher risk of colorectal cancer.  It is best to not drink alcohol. But if you do, the American Cancer Society recommends no more than 2 drinks a day for men and 1 drink a day for women. A single drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1½ ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits (hard liquor).

Research shows that habits related to diet, weight, and exercise are strongly linked to colorectal cancer risk. Changing some of these lifestyle habits may be hard. But making the changes can also lower the risk for many other types of cancer, as well as other serious diseases like heart disease and diabetes.

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