Preventing Colorectal Cancer

Some people develop colorectal cancer because they inherited it. For most people, though, there is no clear cause. The lack of a known cause makes preventing the disease tricky.

Research suggests that may help prevent hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), or Lynch syndrome, an inherited form of the disease -- as well as reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer in people without a genetic predisposition. Other drugs such as celecoxib and sulindac, drugs used for arthritis, may help reduce the recurrence of pre-cancerous aadenomatous polyps. It is also believed that eating a healthy diet with plenty of fiber, not smoking, and getting exercise may help prevent colorectal cancer.

How Can I Prevent Colorectal Cancer?

Diet and Exercise: Experts recommend that people concerned about getting colorectal cancer should exercise and eat right. The National Cancer Institute recommends a low-fat, high-fiber diet that includes at least five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. To reduce fat in your diet, you can change your eating and cooking habits. Major sources of fat include 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. Avoid red meat and processed meats, and incorporate healthy fats, such as those containing omega-3s, into your diet.

Aspirin: It has been proposed that aspirin may stop cancer cells from multiplying. In addition, other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as sulindac and celecoxib) may reduce the size of polyps in the colon and, therefore, the risk of colon cancer. But, this belief 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 nonsteroidal anti-inlammatory drugs due to gastrointestinal problems, an increased risk of bleeding, medication interactions, or other medical problems. If you are concerned about your risk of developing colon cancer, you should not start taking aspirin until you discuss it with your doctor.

Screening: Most health problems respond best to treatment when they are diagnosed and treated as early as possible. If you are at average risk for colorectal cancer, you should have routine screening starting at age 45. There are several options for screening.


Stool based tests include:

  1. Fecal immunochemical test (FIT) yearly
  2. Guaiac fecal occult blood test yearly
  3. Stool DNA test every 3 years

Structural examinations include:

  1. Colonoscopy every 10 years
  2. Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
  3. CT colonography (virtual colonoscopy) every 5 years.

If you have a positive result on a screening test that is not a colonoscopy, further evaluation should be performed on a timely basis with a colonoscopy test to take a look at your entire colon. Talk with your doctor about what your best plan for screening should be.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on July 09, 2018



National Cancer Institute: "Colorectal Cancer Screening (PDQ)" and National Cancer Institute: "Colorectal Cancer Prevention (PDQ)."



© 2018 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.