Know your risk factors!
Everyone is at risk of colorectal cancer to some degree, but some people have a higher risk than others, such as:
- Age: Most people who have this cancer are over age 50. But it can occur at any age.
- Race and ethnicity African-Americans have the highest risk for colorectal cancer in the U.S. and Ashkenazi Jews (Jewish people whose families are from Eastern Europe) have one of the highest colorectal cancer risks of any ethnic group in the world.
- Sex: Men have a slightly higher risk of this disease than women.
- History of colorectal polyps: Polyps are growths that can occur in your colon and rectum. They are common in adults over age 50. Often they're benign, or not cancerous, but some polyps can become cancerous over time. If you have been tested and had polyps removed in the past, you will need to be screened more frequently.
- Ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease: People who have an inflamed lining of the colon caused by one of these conditions have a greater risk for colorectal cancer.
- Family history: People are at higher risk if they have a family history of colorectal cancer or polyps in a first-degree relative. This may be a parent, sibling, or child. The risk is greater if the relative was diagnosed before age 45. The risk is also greater if more than one relative was diagnosed. But most people who get colorectal cancer don’t have a family history of the disease.
- Certain inherited syndromes: People with certain syndromes have a very high risk of colorectal disease. This includes familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome. This is also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC).
- Obesity: Colorectal cancer is more common in people who are very overweight than in people who are not. This is more prevalent for men.
- Inactivity: People who are not active are at increased risk of the disease.
- Diet: Colorectal cancer is often linked to a diet that is high in red meats such as beef, pork, lamb, and veal. It is also linked to a diet high in processed meats, including hot dogs and lunch meats.
- Type 2 diabetes: People with Type 2 Diabetes are more likely to get colorectal cancer.
- Smoking and alcohol: Smoking and increased alcohol intake raises a person's risk for this cancer.
Preventative actions you can take
So what can you do to help protect yourself against colorectal cancer? While there is no sure way to prevent it, you can make changes in your life to help limit as many of the risks as you can.
Having a healthy lifestyle may help to lower your risk for colorectal cancer. Some examples of a healthy lifestyle include:
- Staying at a healthy weight: Several studies have shown a link between extra body weight and an increased risk of colorectal cancer, as well as some other cancers.
- Being physically active: Getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week can reduce your risk for colorectal cancer. This is true even if you start exercising later in life.
- Eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains: Eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help lower your colorectal cancer risk.
- Limiting red and processed meats: This includes beef, sausage, and bacon. Instead eat lean meats and fish.
- Not smoking or abusing alcohol: Both smoking and heavy alcohol use can raise the risk of colorectal cancer. Not smoking, and drinking in moderation, may help lower your risk.
- Schedule routine preventative screenings: Preventative screenings allow your healthcare provider to find and remove colon or rectal polyps before they have a chance to turn into cancer. Even if cancer does develop, screening often allows it to be found early, when treatment is most likely to be successful. Screening is even more important in people who are at increased risk.