Colorectal Cancer Prevention

Colorectal cancer can run in families, but in most people, there is no known cause. Still, there are ways to reduce the risk. Research has suggested that aspirin may help prevent colorectal cancer, as well as maintaining a healthy weight and diet, not smoking, and getting exercise.

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 that adults get 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, 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.

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. NSAID use has also been shown to increase risk of heart attack and stroke. 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 combination hormone replacement therapy that includes both estrogen and progesterone may be at a decreased risk of developing colon cancers as compared to those who do not. However, if they do have colon cancer, it may be more advanced when it is found. Hormone replacement therapy also 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.

American Cancer Society screening guidelines for colorectal cancer starting at age 45 in an average-risk patient include the following options:

 Stool based tests

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

Structural examinations

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
  • 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. 

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 Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 27, 2019


National Cancer Institute.
American Cancer Society.

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