What Can I Do if I Am At Risk for Colorectal Cancer?


What can you do if any of the risks for colorectal cancer apply to you? The best thing you can do is to make changes in your life that will help you control as many of the risks as you can. Here are some choices you can make that may help.

Exercise regularly.

Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise every day can reduce your risk for colorectal cancer. Regular moderate exercise, such as fast walking and climbing stairs, will lower your risk. Intense physical activity, such as running or aerobics, for longer periods of time may provide even more protection. This is true even if you start exercising later in life. Here are some ways doctors think exercise helps protect you:

  • It helps you control your weight.

  • It causes stool to pass through your body more quickly.

  • It may lower levels of prostaglandins. These are substances in your cells, some of which may contribute to polyp formation.

  • It helps improve your immune system.

Get enough folate.

Folate, also called folic acid, is a B vitamin found in many foods. Some studies have suggested that folate may help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, but other studies have not found such a link, so most doctors feel that more research is needed. These foods are good sources of folate:

  • Beans and lentils

  • Fortified cereals

  • Orange juice

  • Green leafy vegetables

Eat more cruciferous and green leafy vegetables.

Cruciferous vegetables come from the cabbage family. They include these vegetables:

  • Broccoli

  • Cabbage

  • Cauliflower

  • Kale

  • Brussels sprouts and turnips

They contain chemicals that may offer some protection against cancer, although more research is needed to confirm this. Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, kale, and collard greens may also be helpful. One reason is their high levels of folate. They also contain antioxidants, which protect cells from damage. Also, the fiber in them helps keep your bowels regular.

Discuss menopausal hormone use with your doctor.

Studies show that women who use hormone replacement therapy, also called HRT, after menopause have a lower risk for colorectal cancer. The studies also suggest, though, that other risks, such as the risk for heart disease, blood clots, breast or endometrial cancer, or early dementia, may be higher in women who use HRT. That means the risks of HRT may outweigh the benefits. Doctors don’t routinely recommend HRT as a way to reduce your risk for colorectal cancer. Before starting HRT, discuss all the risks with your doctor. Then you can decide whether it is right for you.

Consider taking aspirin if you also have heart disease or chronic pain.

Aspirin can lower your risk for colorectal cancer. So can other drugs called NSAIDs, such as celecoxib (Celebrex). These drugs can cause side effects such as an increased risk of bleeding, so doctors don’t suggest them for colorectal cancer protection alone. If you do have to take these drugs for heart disease or chronic pain, though, cancer protection may be an added benefit.

Be sure to get enough calcium in your diet.

Some studies have found that increasing calcium intake may lower a person's risk of colorectal cancer. Calcium is an important mineral in the body for a number of reasons, aside from its possible effects on cancer risk. Some studies, however, have found that higher calcium intake may increase the risk of prostate cancer in men. If you are considering taking calcium supplements, talk to your doctor about the appropriate dose for you. 

Maintain a healthy body weight.

Several studies have shown a link between excess body weight and an increased risk of colorectal cancer (as well as some other cancers). Eating a healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in red and processed meats can help, as can getting enough physical activity.

Don't smoke or abuse alcohol.

Both smoking and heavy alcohol use can raise the risk of colorectal cancer. Not smoking, and drinking in moderation (if at all), may help lower your risk. 

Medical Reviewer: [Berg, Deborah RN, BSN, Rick AlteriRick Alteri MD, Wallack, Marc K. MD] Copyright: © 2007 CancerSource, 280 Summer Street, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02210. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

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