April 2020

How to Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a tale of two age groups. Although the disease is still more common in people older than 50, rates have been falling for this population. Credit increased screening—which can prevent some cases by finding precancerous growths—as one reason for this decline. But among those younger than 50, colorectal cancer rates have risen since the early ’90s.

What’s to blame? Studies suggest that eating habits and obesity play a role. If you’re a young adult, choosing a healthy diet and managing your weight may help. If you’re in the 50-plus group, the same tactics complement regular screening. Either way, it pays to take action.

Optimize your diet

Eating lots of red meat has been linked to an increased risk for colorectal cancer. Meanwhile, diets rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains might decrease the risk.

Besides consuming more fruits and veggies and less red meat, you can fine-tune your menu in other ways that may help lower your risk for colorectal cancer:

  • Limit your intake of processed meats.

  • Avoid drinking alcohol in excess.

Balance the calories you get from food with the ones you burn through regular exercise, too. An inactive lifestyle and obesity are risk factors for colorectal cancer.

Have a screening test

It’s crucial to get screened periodically for this disease. Screening helps detect cancer early, when it’s easier to treat. Some tests also help find precancerous growths, called polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Medical opinions vary about when to begin screening for colorectal cancer—age 45 or 50. Talk with your healthcare provider to determine the right schedule for you.

When it comes to the screening process, you have several options. The guaiac-based fecal occult blood test, fecal immunochemical test, and stool DNA test examine a stool sample for signs of cancer. These noninvasive tests are less likely to find polyps.

Flexible sigmoidoscopy, CT colonography, and colonoscopy examine the colon itself to find both precancerous growths and cancer. They use a viewing tool inserted into the rectum or a special X-ray test. These more involved methods can help prevent cancer by detecting polyps.

Your provider can help you choose the best screening method for you.

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2019
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