March 6, 2017

Take Control to Reduce Colon Cancer Risk

Brett Schuette, American Cancer Society, Lakeshore Division Senior Market Manager, Community Engagement

The possibility of getting colon cancer is scary. There’s no sure way to prevent colorectal cancer, but there are things you can do that might lower your risk. They include being screened for it and changing the risk factors that you can control.

Colorectal cancer screening

From the time the first abnormal cells start to grow into polyps, it usually takes about 10 to 15 years for them to turn into colorectal cancer. With regular screening, most polyps can be found and removed before they become cancer. Screening can also find colorectal cancer early, when it is highly curable.

Doctors recommend that people who are not at increased risk of colorectal cancer start screening at age 50. People at higher risk, such as those with a strong family history of colorectal cancer, might benefit from starting screening at a younger age. If you have a family history or other risk factors for colorectal cancer, such as inflammatory bowel disease, talk with your doctor about your risk and your screening options.

Body weight, physical activity, and diet

You might be able to lower your risk of colorectal cancer by managing some of the risk factors that you can control, like diet and physical activity.  For example, being overweight increases the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women, but the link seems to be stronger in men. Having more belly fat (a larger waistline) has also been linked to colorectal cancer.

Diets that are high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains (and low in red and processed meats) play an important role because they have been linked with a lower colorectal cancer risk, although it’s not exactly clear which factors are important. Many studies have found a link between red meats (beef, pork and lamb) or processed meats (such as hot dogs, sausage and lunch meats) and increased colorectal cancer risk. Several studies have found a higher risk of colorectal cancer with increased alcohol use, especially among men.

Exercise is important because increasing your level of activity can lower your risk of colorectal cancer and polyps. Regular moderate activity (doing things that make you breathe as hard as you would during a brisk walk) lowers the risk, but vigorous activity might have an even greater benefit.

Not smoking

Finally, long-term smoking is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer, as well as many other cancers and health problems. If you smoke and would like help quitting or would like to learn more about any type of cancer, including colorectal, please call the American Cancer Society at (800) 227-2345 or visit

Editor’s note: For free help with diet and physical activity, visit

Next: The Strength to Move On

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