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Colorectal Cancer Prevention

Colorectal cancer tends to run in families, but in many people, there is no known cause. Still, there are ways to reduce the risk. Research has suggested that aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) may help prevent colorectal cancer, as will a healthy diet with plenty of fiber, not smoking, and getting exercise.


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Diet and Exercise for Colorectal Cancer Prevention

Experts recommend that as an initial step towards prevention of colorectal cancer, people should exercise and eat right. The American Cancer Society recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise (or a combination of these) throughout each week.

The National Cancer Institute recommends a low-fat, high-fiber diet that includes at least 2 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables each day. To reduce fat in your diet, change your eating and cooking habits. Major sources of fat are meat, eggs, dairy products, and oils used in cooking and salad dressings. To increase the amount of fiber in your diet, eat more vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain breads and cereals.

In addition, some studies suggest that daily folic acid supplementation can lower colorectal cancer risk. Other studies suggest that increasing calcium and vitamin D intake will lower the risk. Talk to your doctor before changing your diet or taking any supplements.

Aspirin for Colorectal Cancer Prevention

It has been proposed that aspirin may stop colorectal cancer cells from multiplying. In addition, other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as Aleve and Motrin) may reduce the size of polyps in the colon, and therefore, the risk of colon cancer. This theory has not been well established and the proper dosage needed to create this potentially risk-reducing effect is not yet known. In addition, not everyone can tolerate aspirin or other NSAIDs due to gastrointestinal problems, an increased risk of bleeding, medication interactions, or other medical problems. If you are at high risk of developing colon cancer, you should not start taking aspirin or other NSAIDs until you discuss it with your doctor.

Hormone Replacement Therapy

Women who are postmenopausal and take hormone replacement therapy are at a decreased risk of developing colon cancers as compared to those who do not. However, hormone replacement therapy increases the risk of the development of other cancers. You should discuss the risks and the benefits of hormone replacement therapy with your doctor.

Screening for Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer -- and most health problems -- respond best to treatment when they are diagnosed and treated as early as possible. To catch any abnormalities or problems early, you will need regular checkups from your doctor, including a rectal exam, fecal occult blood test, and possibly a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy. Screening recommendations depend upon an individual's risk of colorectal cancer.

Screening recommendations for a person at average risk, starting at age 50, are:

  • Fecal occult blood testing or fecal immunotesting: annually; used to detect cancer
  • sDNA (Stool DNA testing): unknown at present; used to detect cancer
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: every 5 years; used to detect polyps and cancer
  • Double contrast barium enema: every 5 years in conjunction with the flexible sigmoidoscopy; used to detect polyps and cancer
  • Colonoscopy: every 10 years, or following a positive fecal occult blood test; used to detect polyps and cancer
  • CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy): every 5 years; used to detect polyps and cancer

 High risk patients -- based upon personal history of polyps, personal history of colon cancer, family history, and genetic history -- should have their screening personalized by their doctors.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on August 31, 2014

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