Colorectal cancer risk and prevention
Cancers in the colon or rectum usually grow very slowly. In most cases, it takes years for them to grow large enough to cause symptoms. While you may not be able to control all risk factors, you may be able to lower your risk by taking steps to improve your overall health. Talk with your doctor to understand your level of risk and discuss whether you need a screening.
What puts you at risk for colorectal cancer?
A risk factor is anything that raises your chance of getting a disease such as cancer. While you may not be able to control all risk factors, such as your age or family history, you may be able to lower your risk of developing colon cancer by changing certain lifestyle-related factors. For example, diets high in red meats and processed meats, not being physically active, being overweight, smoking and heavy alcohol use have been linked to colorectal cancer.
However, even if you have a very healthy lifestyle and do not have a family history of colorectal cancer, the best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to talk with your doctors about colorectal cancer screening and ways to lower your risk for developing colorectal cancer. Talk with your doctor to understand your level of risk and discuss whether you need a screening.
Who is at increased risk for colorectal cancer?
Some people are more likely to get colorectal cancer than others. This includes people who:
- Already have been diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
- Have a first-degree relative with a certain type of polyp or colorectal cancer. A first-degree relative is a parent, brother, sister, or child.
- Have had one or more polyps removed from your colon.
- Are African American.
- Have inflammatory bowel disease. This includes ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.
- Have a rare inherited polyp syndrome, such as FAP or Lynch syndrome.
Experts agree that people who have a higher risk for colorectal cancer may need to be tested sooner. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested. Your doctor may recommend testing earlier or more often.
How can you help prevent colorectal cancer?
There are lifestyle actions you can take to lower some of the risk factors for colorectal cancer. These actions include the following:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Be physically active.
- Eat healthy foods, including vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Avoid eating a lot of red meat or processed meats.
- If you smoke, get help to quit.
- If you drink alcohol, limit how much you drink.