Top Colon Cancer Prevention Tips

Colonoscopy Appointment
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Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers, yet by adhering to screening guidelines and making healthy lifestyle choices, you can reduce your risk. To help protect yourself and your loved ones from the disease, follow these 10 colon cancer prevention tips.

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Tips For Preventing Colon Cancer

1. If You're 45 or Older, Schedule a Colon Cancer Screening

Then actually follow through with the preparation and the appointment. About 88% of people diagnosed with colon cancer are 50 or older and the median age of diagnosis is 66 years old. However, colorectal cancer rates have increased by more than 2% annually in individuals younger than 50, and particularly in those in their 40s.

Research indicates that by age 50, one in four people has polyps (growths in the colon that can develop into cancer). Getting screened is an excellent colon cancer prevention method.

Clinical Guidelines for Screening

In Spring 2021, both the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the American College of Gastroenterology updated their respective clinical guidelines for colon cancer screening to start at age 45 instead of 50.

2. See a Doctor If You Have Any Colon Cancer Symptoms

Talking about bowel habits can be uncomfortable...but it can also save your life. While colon cancer sometimes doesn't cause any symptoms, certain signs should be a red flag to schedule an appointment with your doctor. These include any persistent change in bowel habits, thin stools, cramping, unexplained weight loss, and blood in the stool. 

3. Eat a Balanced Diet

Diets high in red meats (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats have been linked to increased colon cancer risk. Diets high in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables may have a protective effect.

4. Maintain a Healthy Weight

All other things equal, obese men seem to be more at risk for colon cancer than obese women. Also, certain body types seem to influence risk more than others. Studies indicate that extra fat in the waist may increase colon cancer risk.

5. Maintain an Active Lifestyle

Research indicates that exercising can reduce colon cancer risk by as much as 40%. Exercise also tends to reduce the incidence of other risk factors for colon cancer, like obesity and diabetes.

6. Learn Your Family Medical History

Did you know your family medical history can impact your chances of developing colon cancer? When discussing colon cancer prevention with your doctor, remember to mention if family members have had polyps or colon cancer. Other cancers (such as stomach, liver, and bone) may also be relevant. 

7. Talk to a Doctor About Your Personal Medical History

As you may have guessed, discussing your own medical history is extremely important when it comes to colon cancer prevention. Sometimes we feel like doctors aren't interested in what we have to say, so we try to answer their questions as quickly and succinctly as possible. But it's advisable to talk about your health history. Of particular concern are polyps, certain cancers, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), all of which can increase the risk of developing colon cancer.

8. Consider Genetic Counseling

People who carry genetic mutations linked to hereditary colon cancer are the most likely to develop the disease. If someone in your family has familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (also called hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC), or if you're of Ashkenazi Jewish descent (which increases the risk of inherited mutations), you should seriously consider adding genetic counseling to your colon cancer prevention plan. 

9. Don't Smoke

Yes, it's a risk factor for colon cancer too. The risk also increases the longer you smoke and the more you smoke, whereas quitting can decrease your risk over time. One of the reasons that smoking may increase your risk is that inhaled smoke or swallowed tobacco transports carcinogens to the colon.

10. Reduce Radiation Exposure

Is radiation really relevant to colon cancer prevention? The short answer is yes. According to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, ​"any amount of radiation may pose some risk for causing cancer and hereditary effect, and that the risk is higher for higher radiation exposures." 

If you received radiation as a treatment for cancer, discuss colorectal cancer screenings with your doctor since you may need to start them earlier.

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