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 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.

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.

Studies suggest that increasing calcium and vitamin D intake will lower the risk. While other research suggests that too much folic acid might help cancers grow. 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 hormone replacement therapy may be at a decreased risk of developing colon cancers as compared to those who do not. However, if they do have colon cancer, then 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. To catch any abnormalities or problems early, you will need regular checkups from your doctor, this may include 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 options 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): every 3 years; used to detect cancer
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: every 5 years; used to detect polyps and cancer
  • Colonoscopy: every 10 years, or following a positive result with one of the other screening tests; 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 Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 21, 2016


National Cancer Institute.
American Cancer Society.

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