A risk factor increases your chances of developing cancer. Modifying the following risk factors may help reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

General Guidelines


Eat a Healthful Diet

Eat fruits and vegetables, and avoid high fat foods.
Diets that are high in fat (particularly fat from animal sources such as meat) and low in fruits and vegetables are associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Until recently, it was believed that a high-fiber, low-fat diet provided protection against colorectal cancer. However, recent research indicates that this type of diet, while healthful, may not provide the desired protective effect. Nevertheless, doctors continue to recommend a well-balanced, low-fat diet containing fruits and vegetables, as there are significant health benefits to this type of diet.

Avoid high intakes of well-cooked meat.
Research has shown that cooking certain meats at high temperatures creates chemicals that are not present in uncooked meats. One type of chemical in particular—heterocyclic amines (HCAs)—is carcinogenic and is formed from the cooking of muscle meats such as beef, pork, fowl, and fish. A high intake of fried, broiled, or barbecued meats may increase the risk of several types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.

Eat a balanced amount of dairy products.
A recent study from Finland followed 10,000 men and women aged 15 and over for 24 years, and found that an increased consumption of milk and milk products reduced the risk of developing colon (although not rectal) cancer. Researchers suspect that protective effects from milk may be due to the presence of lactose (milk sugar), which encourages the growth of cancer-fighting bacteria.

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Increase your intake of folate.
Studies have shown that folate (folic acid) taken on a consistent basis over several years appears to help reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

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Exercise Regularly

Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Moderate exercise (30 minutes per day) is beneficial.

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Avoid Obesity

Obesity has been found to increase the risk of colorectal cancer, particularly when excess weight collects at the waist, rather than on hips and thighs. Doctors recommend losing excess weight to reduce colorectal cancer risk.

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Stop Smoking

To reduce your risk of colorectal cancer, stop smoking. Smokers are 30% to 40% more likely to die of colorectal cancer than nonsmokers.

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Use Alcohol in Moderation

Regular use of alcohol among smokers and people with high-fat diets appears to increase the risk of colorectal cancer. However, there does not seem to be an increased risk among people who drink alcohol, but eat diets high in fiber.

Take Aspirin

A recent clinical trial of 1,121 patients found that those who took a daily baby aspirin (80 mg) after having a precancerous adenoma (polyp) removed were able to reduce their risk of recurrence of a polyp by 19%. Patients with advanced adenomas or colorectal cancer were also able to reduce their risk of advanced adenoma recurrence by 40% while taking the same aspirin dosage of 80 mg.

This new study (reported in April 2002) confirms a large, consistent body of evidence from observational studies and animal models that aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce the incidence of colorectal adenomas and colorectal cancer deaths.

Ask your doctor if you should be taking aspirin on a regular basis.

Have Regular Screening Tests

One of the most important steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer is to have regular screening tests. The standard recommendation is to begin screening tests at age 50; if you have a family history of colorectal cancer or have high risk factors, you should begin earlier. Check with your doctor for details. The following tests are used to screen for colorectal cancer:

  • Sigmoidoscopy – the insertion of a sigmoidoscope (a thin, lighted tube with a tiny camera attached) into the rectum to view the inside of the lower colon and rectum and look for polyps, tumors, or abnormal growths. This test can be done in your doctor’s office.
  • Colonoscopy – the insertion of a colonoscope (a thin, lighted tube with a tiny camera attached) into the rectum and through the large intestine. This test enables the doctor to view the inside of the entire colon and rectum for polyps, tumors, or abnormal growths.
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT) – a small sample of stool is placed on a special card and tested by a lab for hidden blood.
  • Digital rectal exam (DRE) – the insertion of a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to check for lumps or abnormal areas.
  • Double contrast barium enema – a rectal injection of barium is given to coat the lining of the colon and rectum. It is done before x-rays are taken in order to create better x-ray images. X-rays are taken of the colon and/or rectum to look for polyps, abnormal growths, or a thickening of the lining of the colon or rectum.

For further details on these tests, see “ Screening for Colorectal Cancer]]> .”


Ask your Doctor about Estrogen Replacement Therapy

Some studies have shown that women who use estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) after menopause have a reduced risk of colon (not rectal) cancer. However, ERT is also known to increase the risk of breast cancer. If you are a woman who has gone through menopause, discuss with your doctor the risks and benefits of ERT with regard to your own medical history.