Colorectal Cancer: Prevention

All people are at some risk of colorectal cancer. But some people have a higher risk than others. What can you do to help protect yourself against colorectal cancer? There's no sure way to prevent it. But you can make changes in your life that can help you control many of the risk factors. Here are some choices you can make that may help.

Man making salad in kitchen.
Making healthy diet choices can help lower your risk for colorectal cancer.

Lead a healthy lifestyle

A healthy lifestyle may help to lower your risk for colorectal cancer. This includes:

  • Being physically active. Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. This can reduce your risk for colorectal cancer. Even fast walking and climbing stairs can help lower your risk. At least 75 minutes of intense physical activity each week also gives you protection. This includes running and aerobics. This is true even if you start exercising later in life. 

  • Eating lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A diet that’s high in these foods can help lower your colorectal cancer risk. Experts don’t know if some vegetables or fruits might be better than others in lowering risk. So it's best to eat a variety of them. 

  • Limiting red and processed meats. Limit beef, pork, sausage, hot dogs, deli meats, and bacon in your diet. Instead, eat lean meats and fish.

  • Staying at a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese is linked to an increased risk of colorectal cancer and some other cancers.

  • Not smoking or abusing alcohol. Both smoking and heavy alcohol use can raise the risk of colorectal cancer. Not smoking and limiting alcohol may help lower your risk. 

  • Getting enough calcium in your diet. Some studies have found that higher calcium intake may lower the risk of colorectal cancer. But some research has found that more calcium may raise the risk of prostate cancer in men. Talk with your provider before you take calcium supplements.  

Consider taking aspirin or NSAIDs if you have heart disease or chronic pain

Aspirin may lower your risk for colorectal cancer. So can other over-the-counter pain and fever medicines called NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). These include ibuprofen and naproxen. But these medicines may cause serious side effects. These include stomach ulcers and an increased risk of bleeding. So healthcare providers don’t advise taking them for colorectal cancer protection alone. If you do have to take these medicines for heart disease or chronic pain, a lower risk of colorectal cancer may be an added benefit. Talk with your healthcare provider before taking these medicines.

Get screened for colorectal polyps and cancer

Some screening tests can help prevent colorectal cancer. They let the healthcare provider find and remove colon or rectal polyps before they can turn into cancer. Even if cancer does develop, screening often helps find it when it's small and treatment is most likely to work. Screening is vital in people who are at higher risk. Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk for colorectal cancer. Ask at what age you should start screening. Ask which screening tests might be right for you. 

Talk with your healthcare provider about hormone use for menopause

Some studies show that women who use combination hormone replacement therapy (HRT) after menopause have a lower risk for colorectal cancer. But other risks may be higher in women who use HRT. These include the risk for heart disease, blood clots, and breast and lung cancer. This means the risks of HRT may outweigh the benefits. HRT is not often advised as a way to reduce colorectal cancer risk. Before starting HRT, talk with your healthcare provider about the benefits and risks to you. Then you can decide if it’s right for you.

Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2021
© 2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.