Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

Lower Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

The most effective way to lower your risk for colorectal cancer is to be screened. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people at average risk start screening at age 45.

Often, colorectal cancer starts with one or more polyps. These stealthy polyps can be in the colon for a long time before ever cancer develops. In fact, people with polyps often don’t have any symptoms. If and when symptoms do appear, the polyps may have already morphed into cancer and spread — making it harder to treat.

Regular screenings offer the best way to find polyps early so they can be removed before they become cancerous. If cancer is already there, screenings can help catch it early.

Other Ways to Lower Your Risk

Lifestyle changes also play an important role in fending off colorectal cancer. Start with these tips.

Eat healthy foods. Limit the amount of processed meats and fried, fatty foods you eat. Choose lean proteins such as chicken and fish instead. Pick foods that are high in fiber. They can help lower your risk for cancer. Fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains are all great ways to add fiber to your diet.

Stay a healthy weight. Drop a few pounds if you need to. Excess body fat — especially around the middle — can raise your risk for cancer, diabetes and other serious health issues.

Limit your alcohol intake. It boosts your risk for many types of cancer, not just colorectal cancer. If you do drink alcohol, do so in moderationleaving site icon  

Keep moving. Regular exercise does a body good. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.

Avoid tobacco. Stop smoking if you smoke. Skip other tobacco products, too.

Know the Signs and Symptoms

Not all people with colorectal cancer have the same symptoms or any symptoms at all. Still, there are some warning signs that should be on your radar, including:

  • Anemia which may cause weakness, fatigue and shortness of breath
  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Blood in the stool or in the toilet after a bowel movement
  • Dark or black stools
  • A change in bowel habits or shape of stools
  • The urge to go even when your bowel is empty
  • Abdominal pain that doesn’t go away
  • Unexplained weight loss
Share Your Family History

If colorectal cancer runs in your family, it’s important to discuss it with your doctor. A family history of colorectal cancer can increase your risk. Your doctor may advise that you be screened before the age of 45.

Sources: What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk of Colorectal Cancer?, leaving site icon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2023; What Are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?, leaving site icon 2023; How to Prevent Colon Cancer, leaving site icon Fight Colorectal Cancer; Eating, Diet & Nutrition for Colon Polyps, leaving site icon National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, 2017; Colorectal Cancer Prevention, leaving site icon National Cancer Institute, 2023; Can Colorectal Cancer Be Prevented?, leaving site icon American Cancer Society, 2024

Originally published 2/25/2019; Revised 2022, 2024