Colorectal Cancer Prevention

The lifestyle choices we make, including our diet and exercise, impact one-third of all cancer deaths in the U.S. every year. Although the death rate for colorectal cancer has been going down over the past 15 years, it still claimed the lives of approximately 50,000 Americans last year.

This is unfortunate particularly because colorectal cancer is largely preventable. To lower the number of people suffering from colorectal cancer and to prevent future diagnosis, consider the following diet and lifestyle recommendations.

Select a topic below for prevention tips:

Modify Your DietModify Your Diet

A diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains can help to prevent colon cancer. Eating at least five servings a day of vegetables and fruits, and at least seven servings of beans and whole grains, will generally ensure you are getting enough dietary fiber.

"A diet high in fiber helps move food through the bowel quickly, reducing its contact with carcinogens," explains Dr. Papaconstantinou.

Increase Vitamins and Antioxidants

Another good reason to eat fruits and vegetables is because they are a great source of antioxidants. Those who do not get sufficient amounts of vitamins C and E and beta-carotene are at an increased risk for developing colon cancer. Consuming at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium each and every day will also protect the colon by neutralizing bile acids and fatty acids. Low-fat dairy products are a great source of calcium.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that vitamin D also plays an important role in colon cancer prevention. Vitamin D is found in fortified milk, salmon, cod liver oil, sardines and mackerel. You can also get the optimal amount of Vitamin D by taking a daily multivitamin and a calcium/Vitamin D supplement.

Limit Red Meat and High-Fat Foods

Limiting the amount of red meat and processed meats you eat will help to lower your risk. Eating more than 18 ounces of red meat each week – including beef, pork and lamb – will increase your risk, so be sure to keep servings of red meat to three ounces each or the size of a deck of cards.

"Even small servings of processed meats increase colorectal cancer risk," says gastroenterologist Dawn Sears, MD. "You should avoid bacon, ham, sausage, salami and hot dogs or save them for special, rare occasions."

It is also beneficial to limit intake of high-fat foods as dietary fats and colon cancer are clearly linked. Fats boost the body’s production of bile acids, which promote rapid cell growth.


Getting enough exercise is also important. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity five or more days each week. Physical activity reduces your risk by speeding up the passage of waste through the body and stimulating blood flow to the colon.

In addition, if you maintain a healthy weight you lower your risk for obesity and a number of cancers, including colon cancer.

Limit Alcohol ConsumptionLimit Alcohol Consumption

Excessive use of alcohol may increase your risk for colorectal cancer. Alcohol also has been linked to other gastrointestinal cancers. Men shouldn’t have more than two drinks per day. Women are encouraged to limit consumption to one drink a day.

Quit SmokingQuit Smoking

Smoking is linked to an increase health risk for many diseases, including cancer. Get help quitting at

Get Screened RegularlyGet Screened Regularly

While lifestyle changes and a healthy diet can help to reduce the risk for colorectal cancer, it cannot replace the need for colorectal cancer screenings.

Regular screening tests like a colonoscopy starting at age 50 are essential in offering protection against this cancer. If you have a family history of colon cancer, you need to start screening 10 years before that family member was first diagnosed.

Colorectal polyps are found through screening, which can be removed before turning into cancer.

Find out more about the importance of colorectal screening »

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