Can Colon Cancer Be Prevented?

Thursday, Mar 19, 2015

During National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, it's important to look at risk factors for colon cancer and what you can do to reduce that risk. It starts with screening and includes healthy lifestyle changes.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer of men and women in the United States. Found early before it has spread, it is highly curable. Diagnosed at an early stage, the relative five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer is about 90%. But only about 4 out of 10 colorectal cancers are found at the early stage when they are most treatable, according to the American Cancer Society.

Watch Video: Colon Cancer Awareness

American Cancer Society discusses the importance of talking to your family about family history of colon cancer, and the importance of screening. 


Have you been screened?

There is a reason why screening for colon cancer is so highly recommended. If everyone age 50 years or older had regular screening tests, at least 60% of deaths from colon cancer could be avoided, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Colorectal cancer usually starts from abnormal growths in the colon or rectum called polyps. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer. Screening tests find polyps, so they can be removed before they become cancerous. That's a powerful tool for prevention.

Still, only about half of people eligible for colorectal cancer screening get the tests they should. The American Cancer Society recommends regular screening starting at age 50 for people with no identified risk factors (other than age). People with risk factors or a family history of colorectal cancer should talk to their doctor about getting screened earlier.

Learn more about Colorectal Cancer Screening Guidelines

Both men and women with normal risk should start getting screened at age 50. "Risk is slightly lower in women but women are still at risk," says gastroenterologist Alan Chang, MD.

Reducing your risk

You can make lifestyle changes to lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer.

These include:
  • Increasing the amount and intensity of physical activity. Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days of the week.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Avoid weight gain around the midsection.
  • Limit intake of red and processed meats. Decrease use of fats, oils, butter and red meats.
  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Eat more cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts.
  • Limit intake of charcoal-broiled foods and avoid salt-cured foods.
  • Avoid excess alcohol.
  • Stop smoking.

These guidelines not only help reduce the risk of cancer, they are beneficial to your overall health and can help fight heart disease, diabetes and other related conditions.

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