All people are at risk of colorectal cancer to some degree. But some people have a higher risk than others. What can you do to help protect yourself against colorectal cancer? There’s no sure way to prevent it. But you can make changes in your life that will help you control as many of the risks as you can. Here are some choices you can make that may help.
Lead a healthy lifestyle
Having a healthy lifestyle may help to lower your risk for colorectal cancer. This includes:
- Being physically active. Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week can reduce your risk for colorectal cancer. Even moderate activity, such as fast walking and climbing stairs, can help lower your risk. Intense physical activity, such as running or aerobics, for longer periods of time may provide even more protection. This is true even if you start exercising later in life.
- Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eating a diet that’s high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help lower your colorectal cancer risk. Experts don’t know if certain vegetables might be better than others in lowering risk. So the best advice is to eat a variety of them.
- Limiting red and processed meats. This includes beef, sausage, and bacon. Instead eat lean meats and fish.
- Staying at a healthy weight. Several studies have shown a link between extra body weight and an increased risk of colorectal cancer, as well as some other cancers.
- Not smoking or abusing alcohol. Both smoking and heavy alcohol use can raise the risk of colorectal cancer. Not smoking, and drinking in moderation (if at all), may help lower your risk.
- Getting enough calcium in your diet. Some studies have found that increasing calcium intake may lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Calcium is an important mineral in the body for many reasons. But some research has found that higher calcium intake may raise the risk of prostate cancer in men. Talk with your provider before taking calcium supplements.
Consider taking aspirin if you also have heart disease or chronic pain
Aspirin may lower your risk for colorectal cancer. So can other over-the-counter pain and fever medicines called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen. But these medicines may cause serious side effects, such as an increased risk of bleeding. So healthcare providers don’t suggest taking them for colorectal cancer protection alone. If you do have to take these medicines for heart disease or chronic pain, though, a lower risk of colorectal cancer may be an added benefit. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking one of these medicines.
Talk with your healthcare provider about screening for colorectal polyps and cancer
Some screening tests may actually help prevent colorectal cancer. They allow the healthcare provider to find and remove colon or rectal polyps before they have a chance to turn into cancer. Even if cancer does develop, screening often allows it to be found early, when treatment is most likely to be successful. Screening is even more important in people who are at increased risk. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk for colorectal cancer, at what age you should start screening, and which tests might be right for you.
Discuss menopausal hormone use with your healthcare provider
Studies show that women who use hormone replacement therapy, also called HRT, after menopause have a lower risk for colorectal cancer. The studies also suggest, though, that other risks may be higher in women who use HRT. These include the risk for heart disease, blood clots, and breast and lung cancer. That means the risks of HRT may outweigh the benefits. Healthcare providers don’t normally recommend HRT as a way to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer. Before starting HRT, discuss all the risks with your healthcare provider. Then you can decide if it’s right for you.