Submitted By Dr. Darley Solomon*
Even though we don’t know the exact cause of most colorectal cancers, it is possible to prevent many of them.
Regular screening is one of the best ways to help prevent colorectal cancer. Some polyps, or growths, can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Screening can also help find colorectal cancer early, when it is small and more likely to be cured. People who have no known risk factors should begin screening at age 50. Those who have a family history or other risk factors (such as inflammatory bowel disease) should talk with their doctor about starting screening at a younger age or getting screened more often.
Genetic testing and screening for those with a strong family history
If you have a strong family history of colorectal polyps or cancer, you should think about getting genetic counseling to help you decide whether genetic testing or earlier screening may be right for you. Before getting genetic testing, it’s good to know ahead of time what the results may or may not tell you about your risk. These tests are not perfect, and in some cases they may not be able to give you solid answers. This is why meeting with a cancer genetics expert before testing is a key part of choosing whether testing is right for you.
Diet, exercise, and body weight
Most studies have found that being overweight increases the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women. Having more belly fat has also been linked to colorectal cancer.
Overall, diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and low in red and processed meats have been linked with lower colorectal cancer risk.
Studies show a lower risk of colorectal cancer and polyps with higher levels of activity. Moderate activity on a regular basis lowers the risk, but vigorous activity may have an even greater benefit.
Several studies have found a higher risk of colorectal cancer with increased alcohol intake, especially among men.
The best advice about diet and activity to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is to:
- Increase the intensity and amount of physical activity.
- Limit intake of red and processed meats.
- Get the recommended levels of vitamins, especially calcium and vitamin D (see below).
- Eat more vegetables and fruits.
- Avoid obesity and weight gain around the midsection.
- Avoid too much alcohol.
Vitamins and minerals
Studies looking to see if taking a vitamin or mineral supplement could help lower risk have not had clear results. More research is needed on this subject.
Some studies suggested that taking a daily multi-vitamin containing that contained folic acid or folate could help lower colorectal cancer risk. However, some studies have hinted that folic acid might help existing tumors grow.
Some studies have suggested that vitamin D, which you can get from the sun, in certain foods, or in a vitamin pill, can lower colorectal cancer risk. Because of the increased risk of skin cancer, most experts do not recommend extra sun exposure as a way to lower colorectal cancer risk.
Other studies suggest that getting more calcium may lower colorectal cancer risk. But because of the possible increased risk of prostate cancer in men with high calcium intake, the American Cancer Society does not recommend increasing calcium intake to try to lower cancer risk.
Some studies found a link between a diet high in magnesium and lower colorectal cancer risk, especially in women.
Taking estrogen and progesterone after menopause (sometimes called menopausal hormone therapy or hormone replacement therapy) may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer in women after menopause. But cancers found in women taking these hormones after menopause may be at a more advanced stage. While taking these hormones after menopause lowers the risk of developing osteoporosis, it can also increase a woman’s risk of heart disease, blood clots, and breast or cancer.
Some studies have found that the use of birth control pills may lower the risk of colorectal cancer in women.
Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of hormone replacement therapy or birth control pills.
*Information from the American Cancer Society
Dr. Darley Solomon MD MBA Dr. Darley Solomon is an attending General Surgeon who has been practising at Doctors Hospital since 2011. Dr. Solomon earned his Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Doctor of Medicine degrees at Howard University in Washington, DC. He then completed an internship in Internal Medicine at Jacobi Medical Center in […]Read More
Dr. Darley SolomonGeneral Surgeon