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8 ways to prevent colon cancer

Many colon cancers are preventable. Follow these eight guidelines to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer.

“With adequate screening and education, we can both detect colon cancer and remove small precursor lesions that could eventually form into cancer,” says Jay Singh, M.D., FACS, FASCRS, a colorectal surgeon at Piedmont.

Dr. Singh says the following eight steps will help you prevent colon cancer.

1. Get screened.

Most people should get their first colon cancer screening – a colonoscopy – at age 45. The test can detect precancerous polyps on the colon as well as cancerous tumors.

“A colonoscopy is a simple test, done under light anesthetics, that allows us to detect early lesions in a good number of people,” he explains.

Subsequent colon cancer screenings are based on the findings of each patient’s initial colonoscopy. If a polyp or other abnormality is detected, the patient will be screened more frequently than someone without precancerous lesions. For most people with normal test results, a colonoscopy screening every 10 years is standard.

2. Maintain a healthy weight.

“Simply put, obesity in our society has a link to several different types of cancers, including colon cancer,” says Dr. Singh.

3. Don’t smoke.

Not smoking – or quitting if you are currently a smoker – is one of the top ways to prevent colon cancer.

“Tobacco has an impact on cancer formation in our bodies and colon cancer may be directly impacted by the use of tobacco,” he says.

4. Be physically active.

“Being physically active for at least 30 minutes daily may help impact both general bowel health and decrease the risk of colon cancer,” he explains.

5. Drink only moderately, if at all.

Alcohol can play a role in the development of colon cancer.

“Alcohol has several different effects on the body and certainly the colon can be affected by the heavy use of alcohol,” he says.

6. Limit processed red meat.

Limiting red meat (beef, pork or lamb) and processed meat (bacon, sausage, ham, salami or hot dogs) to three times or less per week can help reduce colon cancer risk.

7. Get enough calcium and vitamin D.

Dr. Singh says consuming enough calcium and vitamin D is also a factor in colon cancer prevention.

Consume foods high in calcium (such as dairy products, kale, broccoli or cabbage) and vitamin D (like milk, fatty fish, egg yolks, cheese or fortified foods). If you don’t get enough of these nutrients, talk to your doctor about vitamin supplements.  

8. Consider a multivitamin with folate.

“A multivitamin that includes folate has been shown to decrease the risk of colon cancer in our society,” he says.

Non-preventable colon cancer risk factors

Unfortunately, certain colon cancer risk factors aren’t preventable:

  • Family history. “Genetics plays a huge role in cancer and knowing your family history is crucial,” says Dr. Singh.
  • Age. It occurs most often in people over age 50, but can develop at any age.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease. “The presence of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis substantially increase the risk of colon cancer.”

“Remember, colon cancer is preventable,” says Dr. Singh. “Know your risks, maintain a healthy lifestyle and get screened.”

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