Colon cancer is a serious and sometimes fatal disease, but the good news is that it is often preventable through lifestyle changes and risk-reducing strategies.
“Most colon cancer is sporadic, meaning it is not genetic but something acquired through the environment like smoking, alcohol use and eating red meats and processed foods,” says Dr. Punam Parikh Amin, colorectal surgeon and assistant professor of surgical oncology in Baylor’s Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery. “These are all modifiable risk factors.”
Here are some tips for preventing colon cancer:
- Eat a healthy diet: A diet high in fiber, fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help reduce the risk of colon cancer. Avoid or limit red meat, processed foods and foods high in fat and sugar. Many studies have shown highly processed foods lead to a greater risk of colon cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases the risk of colon cancer. If you are overweight, losing weight can help reduce your risk.
- Quit smoking: Smoking increases the risk of colon cancer, as well as many other types of cancer. Quitting smoking can improve your overall health and reduce your risk of cancer. Smoking cessation programs are often covered by insurance.
- Limit alcohol consumption: Heavy drinking can increase the risk of colon cancer. If you drink alcohol, limit your intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
- Get screened: Regular screening for colon cancer can help detect the disease early, when it is most treatable. The general guideline is screening should start at age 45. Colonoscopies are the gold standard, but you can ask your doctor about Cologuard test.
- Manage chronic conditions: Chronic conditions such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis can increase the risk of colon cancer. Work with your doctor to manage these conditions and reduce your risk.
“Most colon and rectal cancers come from a polyp,” says Amin. “They are not cancer initially but in years to come, they can grow into a cancer. That’s why screening is so important – these polyps can be found and removed during a colonoscopy.”
By making these lifestyle changes and following risk-reducing strategies, you can help reduce your risk of colon cancer.
By Tiffany Harston, communications associate with the Michael E. DeBakey Department of Surgery.