Protect Yourself from Colorectal Cancer

Doctors recommend certain screening tests for healthy people with no signs or symptoms in order to look for signs of colon cancer or noncancerous colon polyps. Finding colon cancer at its earliest stage provides the greatest chance for a cure. Screening has been shown to reduce your risk of dying of colon cancer.

Doctors generally recommend that people with an average risk of colon cancer begin screening around age 50. But people with an increased risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer or African-American heritage, should consider screening sooner.

Several screening options exist — each with its own benefits and drawbacks. Talk about your options with your doctor, and together you can decide which tests are appropriate for you.

Lifestyle changes to reduce your risk of colon cancer

You can take steps to reduce your risk of colon cancer by making changes in your everyday life. Take steps to:

  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains: Fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants, which may play a role in cancer prevention. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables so that you get an array of vitamins and nutrients.
  • Stop smoking: Talk to your doctor about ways to quit that may work for you.
  • Exercise most days of the week: Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days. If you’ve been inactive, start slowly and build up gradually to 30 minutes.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: If you are at a healthy weight, work to maintain your weight by combining a healthy diet with daily exercise. Aim to lose weight slowly by increasing the amount of exercise you get and reducing the number of calories you eat.
  • Vitamin D: Some research has suggested that colorectal cancer survivors with higher levels of vitamin D in their blood might have better outcomes than those with lower levels. But it’s not yet clear if taking vitamin D supplements can affect outcomes.
  • Calcium: Some research has suggested that calcium supplements can lower the risk of colorectal polyps in people who have previously had polyps. But it’s not clear if calcium supplements can lower the risk of colorectal cancer coming back.

Colon cancer prevention for people with a high risk

Some medications have been found to reduce the risk of precancerous polyps or colon cancer. For instance, some evidence links a reduced risk of polyps and colon cancer to regular use of aspirin or aspirin-like drugs. But it’s not clear what dose and what length of time would be needed to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Taking aspirin daily has some risks, including gastrointestinal bleeding and ulcers.

Treating Colorectal Cancer

If you’ve been diagnosed with colorectal cancer, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. It’s important that you think carefully about each of your choices. Weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects.

Local treatments: Some treatments are called local therapies. This means they treat the tumor without affecting the rest of the body. These treatments are more likely to be useful for earlier-stage cancers (smaller cancers that haven’t spread), but they might also be used in some other situations.

Systemic treatments: Colorectal cancer can also be treated using drugs, which can be given by mouth or directly into the bloodstream. These are called systemic therapies because they can reach cancer cells throughout the body. Depending on the type of colorectal cancer.

The recommendations on this page are based on literature from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons.

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