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March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month! Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers worldwide and is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among men and women in the United States.  While no cancer is 100% preventable, there are concrete ways you can lower your risk of colon cancer.  Let’s delve a little deeper into dietary colon cancer prevention steps you can take today.

1. Eat Less of These Foods to Lower Your Risk of Colon Cancer

According the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund’s 2018 report on colon cancer, dietary factors play an important role in colon cancer development.  Their research has found that people with higher intakes of red and processed meats and alcohol have a greater risk of developing colon cancer. To lower your risk of colon cancer, limit alcohol to less than 2 drinks per day or avoid it completely.  Limit red meat and try to avoid processed meats.  Processed meats have been preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding other preservatives. Examples of processed meats are hot dogs, bacon, sausage and most deli meat.  Better options include chicken, fish or plant based proteins such as beans, nuts and tofu.

2. Eat More of These Foods to Lower Your Risk of Colon Cancer


Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes has been associated with a lower risk of several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and cancer. However, according to the AICR, eating more fiber may specifically help lower your risk of colon cancer.  When dietary fiber is fermented by gut bacteria, it produces beneficial compounds, such as short chain fatty acids, which may help prevent cancer cells from forming. 

Whole Grains

Whole grains are a good source of fiber, but they also contain powerful antioxidants, such as vitamin E, lignans, and phenolic acids. These compounds all have potential anti-cancer effects.  The Dietary Guidelines recommend making at least half your grains whole grains.  Swap out white rice, white bread and pasta for whole grain options such as 100% whole wheat bread, quinoa, bulgur wheat, faro, kasha, millet or brown rice.

Calcium and Vitamin D

Get adequate calcium and vitamin D from food sources and supplements if needed. Studies have found a relationship between higher dairy and calcium consumption and lower risk of colorectal cancers. Studies that show a relationship between two things, do not always mean one causes the other. However, researchers believe that calcium may help protect the colon from toxic effects of free fatty acids and bile acids and prevent cell mutations. Milk or lactose free milk, yogurt and cheese are good sources of calcium. Just be sure to choose low fat dairy products and talk to your doctor before starting any supplements

3. Preventing Colon Cancer is Also About Lifestyle Changes

In addition to eating healthy, there are some other lifestyle changes you can make to lower your risk of colon cancer.  Stop smoking, exercise regularly and maintain healthy body weight.

Smoking is so bad for you in so many ways. From increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and so many other cancers, to causing lung diseases, deteriorating your bone health, affecting your teeth and your breath and more. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about available options whether prescription medications or over the counter nicotine supplements or other approaches that may be right for you.

Having an active lifestyle is associated with a lower risk of colorectal cancer as well as a lower cardiovascular risk and improved general wellbeing. Pick an activity you can enjoy and start with small steps. Set reasonable goals and increase gradually. 

If you are overweight, diet and exercise are your best friends. Yes, it’s hard and keeping the weight off is the biggest challenge. Talk to your doctor and consider seeing a nutritionist for guidance and meal planning.

4. Get Screened.

Colorectal cancer is preventable. We can remove the polyps before they turn into cancer. Colonoscopy is the preferred method for colorectal cancer screening as it detects polyps and it allows us to remove them during the same procedure. It is a safe, effective and very well tolerated test. Other screening tests are also available. Talk to your doctor about screening for colorectal cancer and get screened. Any screening is better than no screening.

Beginning in May 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered the recommended age for colon cancer screenings from age 50 to age 45. The lower age recommendation is based on recent research that showed the incidence of colon cancer has been rising in people younger than age 50.  If you have a personal or family history of colon cancer, polyps, inflammatory bowel disease or other risk factors, talk to your doctor about the right time to start screening for colon cancer.

For more information on colon cancer visit the American Cancer Society or the American Institute for Cancer Research.

If you would like to discuss your options for colorectal cancer screening or to schedule a colonoscopy, please call Digestive Care Specialists at 301-288-1319.