Everyone is at risk of colorectal cancer to some degree, but some people have a higher risk than others. What can you do to help protect yourself against colorectal cancer? There's no sure way to prevent it, but the best thing you can do is make changes in your life that will help you control as many of the risks as you can.
“You don’t have to wait until you’re diagnosed with colorectal cancer to take control of your risk factors,” explains Pallavi Rastogi, MD, oncologist at the Cancer Center at Paoli Hospital. “Simple changes to your lifestyle and an open dialogue with your doctor about your risk are an important part of prevention.”
Below, Dr. Rastogi explains some steps you can take to control your colorectal cancer risk.
Eat more calcium and Vitamin D
Several studies have found that a combination of calcium and Vitamin D may help protect against colorectal cancer, so stock your kitchen with calcium-rich foods like milk, salmon, kale and collard greens. Time spent outdoors is an excellent source of Vitamin D, but you can also find it in foods like salmon, sardines, and egg yolks.
Besides calcium and Vitamin D, a balanced diet of vegetables, whole grains, and antioxidants can also help decrease your cancer risk. Main Line Health dietitian Carolyn Farhy has more tips on how nutrition can affect your risk for colorectal cancer.
Getting at least 150 minutes of exercise each week can reduce your risk for colorectal cancer. Aim for a moderate to intense rate of exercise to reap the most benefits, but any time you spend on the move will help.
“Not only does exercise help control your weight, which can decrease cancer risk, but it also improves your immune system and causes stool to pass through your body more quickly,” explains Dr. Rastogi. “All of these benefits combined can reduce your colorectal cancer risk.”
Limit alcohol intake, and quit smoking
Both smoking and heavy alcohol use can raise the risk of colorectal cancer. Not smoking, and drinking in moderation may help lower your risk. Women should stick to one drink per day, two for men, or less than that to further decrease your risk.
Schedule a screening
Screening tests are the best defense against colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk for colorectal cancer, what age you should begin getting screened, and which screening method is right for you. If you’re at a higher risk of colorectal cancer because of family history, you may be eligible for genetic testing.
Discuss hormone therapy with your doctor
Some studies have suggested that women who undergo hormone therapy may be at an increased risk for cancer, but there has been no conclusive evidence of this yet. Menopausal women who are at an increased risk for colorectal cancer and are considering hormone therapy should talk to their doctor about potential risks.