Knowing your risk factors for colorectal cancer can help you make lifestyle changes to protect yourself.

Colorectal Cancer Prevention Month: Dos and Don’ts

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time when health experts raise awareness about the need to pay attention to risk factors for colon and rectal cancer. Many people don’t know that colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the United States, and is the second leading cause of death from cancer.

Those age 50 and older and those with a family history of this type of cancer have a higher risk of colorectal cancer. And while colorectal cancer affects all racial and ethnic groups, African Americans are at higher risk than other groups.

Other risk factors include smoking, obesity, excessive alcohol use, and not being physically active. Some studies have also found that certain foods may increase your risk of colorectal cancer.

The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to get screened regularly starting at age 50. The primary screening tools are colonoscopy and the fecal occult blood test (FOBT), which looks for trace evidence of blood and inflammation in a stool sample. Colonoscopies are used to look for polyps – small growths that can turn into cancer if not removed.

Your diet can also help protect you from colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, a high-fiber diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains and low in red meat may be protective. In particular, studies have found a link between red meats and particularly smoked and processed meats such as bacon, hot dogs, sausage and pre-prepared lunch meats and colorectal cancer.

To keep it simple, here are some dos and don’ts, dietary and otherwise, for preventing colorectal cancer.

  • Do exercise at least three times a week for 50 minutes, or 150 minutes total
  • Do eat plenty of fruit
  • Do eat whole grains
  • Do maintain your weight within the recommended BMI range for your height
  • Do reduce your intake of added sugars
  • Do limit your alcohol intake to one drink a day or less for women, two for men
  • Don’t eat white flour
  • Don’t eat processed meat products
  • Don’t eat smoked meats
  • Don’t smoke

For more detailed information, check out these American Cancer Society guidelines for nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention.

Melanie Haiken writes about health, wellness and fitness for national magazines and websites. She specializes in discovering and reporting the latest research on diet, nutrition, fitness, weight loss and other health-related topics. Her award-winning stories have appeared in Fitness, Shape, Health, Forbes, and other respected magazines. She also contributes health stories to numerous Kaiser Permanente newsletters and other publications.