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Colorectal Cancer Prevention

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women, according to the American Cancer Society.

Lifestyle Changes

Starting today, you can make changes in your lifestyle habits that can reduce your risk of getting colorectal cancer. We recommend:

  • Diet. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods and limit your intake of high-fat foods.
  • Exercise. We recommend that you get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on five or more days of the week. 45 to 60 minutes of exercise on five or more days of the week is even better.
  • Avoid too much alcohol. This may also help lower your risk of colorectal cancer. Don't exceed more than one drink per day for women or two per day for men.
  • Vitamins and minerals. Some studies suggest taking a daily multivitamin containing folic acid or folate to lower colorectal cancer risk. Others suggest getting more vitamin D and calcium can help. A diet high in magnesium may also reduce colorectal cancer risk in women. However, these studies are not conclusive. Talk to your doctor before beginning a vitamin regimen.
  • Aspirin and other drugs. Aspirin and drugs like ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) and naproxen (Aleve®) may lower the risk of colorectal cancer and polyps. A drug called Celebrex® also reduces polyp formation for some people with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). But these medicines can have serious or even life-threatening side effects. Experts do not advise taking them to try to prevent colorectal cancer. If you are at high risk for colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor about what you should do.
  • Female hormones. Combined hormone replacement therapy in women after menopause may reduce the woman's risk of getting colorectal cancer. We will base the decision to use hormone replacement therapy on a careful discussion of benefits and risks.

Colon Cancer: Early Detection

Regular colon cancer screening is one of the best ways to help prevent colorectal cancer. Sometimes, we can find and remove polyps, or growths, before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Screening can also detect colon cancer early, when it is small and more easily cured. There are three standard screening options recommended by the American Cancer Society for early detection of colon cancer, all starting at age 50 (for men and women):

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every five years* and colonoscopy every 10 years
  • Double-contrast barium enema every five years*, or
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every five years*

*A colonoscopy should be performed if test result is positive

Learn more about cancer screening guidelines for men and cancer screening guidelines for women.

Colon Cancer: Family History

If you have a history of colorectal cancer in your family, talk with your doctor about when and how often to have screening tests. We may suggest earlier screenings for individuals with high risk factors for colon cancer.