7 simple steps to lower your risk of colon cancer


by Georgia Dixon, DNP-S, FNP, MSN, RN

Mar 20, 2019

Would you be surprised to hear that almost half of all colorectal cancer diagnoses could be prevented with simple lifestyle changes? As colon cancer is on the rise among younger populations, it’s time to take a closer look at how we’re living. It’s those little choices we make every day that determine our future health.

The good news is it’s not too late to step up your preventive care game and decrease your risk of colon cancer. Here’s how.

Get your weight under control.

Obesity has been linked to many digestive cancers, and colon cancer is no exception. If you’re having trouble losing weight, your primary care physician can help.

Embrace the power of exercise.

Find physical activities you enjoy and do them regularly. Go for a walk, grab a friend and try out a new yoga class, or finally give running a fair shot. Start slow if you need to — but make time for exercise.

If you’re stuck, here’s some inspiration:

Quit smoking. Today.

Smoking is a major risk factor for colorectal cancer and many other cancers. Do not start smoking and if you already smoke, talk to your doctor about how to quit.

Eat a healthy, high-fiber diet.

Decrease your consumption of red meat and avoid processed foods such as hot dogs, sausage, bacon and cold cut meats. Limit foods high in sugar and saturated fat. Instead, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables that are high in fiber (the key ingredient for a healthy gut).

Keep an eye on your alcohol intake.

If you choose to drink, exercise moderation. Consuming three or more drinks per day is considered heavy drinking, according to the American Cancer Society.

Pay attention to your individual risks.

It’s up to you to know your risks and have an open conversation with your doctor. Based on certain uncontrollable factors — including ethnicity, age, family history of colon cancer or polyps, and the existence of other medical conditions — you may be at an increased risk.

For African Americans in particular, colorectal cancer should be on your radar. Of all racial and ethnic groups in the U.S., African Americans have the highest incidence of colon cancer and the highest mortality rate.

Stay on top of your cancer screenings.

Early diagnosis is key. Unless you have certain risk factors, screening for colon cancer typically begins at age 50. For some higher-risk groups, including African Americans, screening should begin at age 45. Your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent screening for you, but these are the recommended screening guidelines:

  • Stool test: A fecal occult blood test (FOBT) or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) should be performed every year to examine your stool for microscopic amounts of blood. This option is very affordable and easy to use.
  • Stool DNA test: This should beperformed every three years to identify any abnormal DNA in the stool associated with the possibility of colon cancer or precancerous polyps (abnormal growths).
  • Colonoscopy: You should have a colonoscopyevery 10 years. This diagnostic exam examines the entire colon for precancerous polyps and removes them before they turn into cancer. A colonoscopy is the gold standard procedure for making a diagnosis and preventing colorectal cancer.

Are you due for a colon cancer screening? Find a doctor today.

About the Author

Georgia Dixon is a nurse practitioner in gastroenterology at Baylor Scott & White Specialty Clinic – Killeen Hemingway.

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