Preventing colon cancer

Published On: Feb 12 2013 12:22:39 PM EST   Updated On: Aug 22 2013 12:59:03 PM EDT

By Carol Weinman, Pure Matters

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths for men and women combined. When men and women are considered separately, colorectal cancer is the third most common cause of death in each sex, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). (For men and women, lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths, prostate cancer is the second leading cause for men, and breast cancer is the second leading cause for women.)

Your risk for developing colorectal cancer increases with age, but other lifestyle factors and genetics also play a role in increasing risk.

The risk for colorectal cancer increases after age 40. The risk rises sharply beginning around age 50 and continues to increase with each passing decade.

Because colorectal cancer develops slowly, the ACS emphasizes screening for the early detection of pre-cancerous polyps. Early detection focuses on finding and removing a type of polyp in the colon called an adenoma, which is the precursor to colon cancer in most cases. If these are found early and removed, the cancer can be prevented.

Reducing risk

Researchers say that diet seems to affect your risk for developing colorectal cancer. People whose diets are high in fat (especially fats from animal sources) and processed meats are at higher risk for colorectal cancer. It is currently not known if taking folic acid or Vitamin D lowers the risk of colorectal cancer. Although fiber was thought to aid in prevention of colorectal cancer, studies have shown conflicting results.

Obesity can increase the risk for colorectal cancer, and so can smoking and heavy alcohol use, according to the ACS and the National Cancer Institute.

A sedentary lifestyle has been linked to an increased risk for colorectal cancer. The ACS has recommended at least 30 minutes, and even better, 45 to 60 minutes of physical activity on five or more days of the week to lower the risk of getting colorectal cancer.

Some studies show that using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including aspirin, may help reduce the risk for colon cancer. This is not an accepted indication for their use at this time because of their potential side effects. Don't begin taking these medications to prevent colon cancer without first talking to your doctor about these medications, particularly for long-term use.


The ACS recommends that screening for colorectal cancer begin at age 50 for people at average risk. If you are at increased risk for colorectal cancer (for example, you have a family history of colorectal cancer), talk with your health care provider about which screening method is right for you, when you should begin screening, and how often you need it.

Here is more information about tests that are available:

All of these tests, except for FOBT, FIT, and stool DNA tests, require you to go through a process to cleanse stool from the colon and rectum the day before the test. Your health care provider will give you the instructions on how to do this.

The ACS says you are at increased risk for colorectal cancer if:

ACS guidelines for people of average risk say that both men and women should get one of the following. Talk to your doctor about which screening method is appropriate for you.


If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor - they may be caused by colorectal cancer or a non-cancerous condition. According to the ACS, symptoms of colorectal cancer may include: