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Six ways to give your colon a fighting chance against cancer.

March 22, 2024

By Dr. Kathleen Berger
WellMed at St. Joseph
Houston, Texas

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most deadly cancer in the United States, but the odds of getting it can be reduced by having regular screenings and implementing a few lifestyle changes. Screenings for colon and rectal cancer, especially colonoscopies, help detect cancer at an early stage, increasing the odds of successfully treating it. [i] Here are six actions everyone can take to reduce their chance of getting colon cancer.   

  1. Get screened

Regular screening is considered one of the best things a person can do to head off colon cancer. There are a few different lab tests, including two that detect blood in the stool, another that detects altered DNA in stool. ACT colonography is a virtual examination of the rectum and colon. The gold standard test, however, is a colonoscopy. Colonoscopies, a procedure performed by a doctor using a long, thin, flexible, lighted tube to exam the rectum and colon for abnormalities, are recommended for people ages 45 through 75 and have the advantage of the doctor being able to remove precancerous growths, or polyps, from the rectum or colon during the examination, if necessary. The prep to empty the colon is considered by many to be the worst part, but you are asleep during the procedure and people who have a normal test will only need a repeat once every 10 years. The recommendation for stool tests range from once a year to once every three years, and every five years for a CT colonography.

  1. Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains

Eating a healthier diet not only helps your heart and health overall, evidence suggests eating more whole grains and less beef, pork, lamb and processed meats, such as hotdogs and lunch meats, may lower the risk of developing colon cancer. Starting with simple changes, such as eating oatmeal instead of prepared cereals for breakfast, can help ease the transition.

  1. Get up and move

Most of us have heard it before – exercise is good for us. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity. This amounts to 30 minutes every day, five days a week. Such activity can include mowing the lawn, walking, taking dance lessons or doing water aerobics. What’s good for the heart is good for overall health, including reducing the risk of getting colon cancer.

  1. Stop smoking

There is no doubt about it, stopping smoking can be difficult, but there is a lot of help available, including support groups participants can attend in person, online or by phone. There are also seven FDA approved aids ranging from nicotine patches to prescription medications that can help cut nicotine cravings. Not only does smoking cessation improve your health in general, it also reduces the risk of getting colon and other cancers.

  1. Manage your weight

Being overweight increases the risk of developing colon cancer and other health conditions such as diabetes. There are many programs and groups available to help in weight loss, but it’s best to start with your primary care physician, who can recommend how much weight you need to lose, what eating program is best and how long it should take to reach your goal.

  1. Limit alcohol intake

Drinking alcohol has been proven to cause damage to heart health and is linked to several types of cancer, including cancers of the breasts and liver.[ii] Research is beginning to show that there may be a link between alcohol consumption and the higher rate of colorectal cancer in people younger than 50.[iii] The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends not drinking alcohol at all, but for people who do, stick to no more than two drinks a day for men, and no more than one drink a day for women.[iv] Talk to your primary care physician if you need help controlling or stopping drinking.


[i] Colorectal Cancer Survival Rates | Colorectal Cancer Prognosis | American Cancer Society
[ii] Alcohol and Cancer | CDC
[iii] Sex and Tumor-Site Differences in the Association of Alcohol Intake With the Risk of Early-Onset Colorectal Cancer | Journal of Clinical Oncology (
[iv] Facts about moderate drinking | CDC


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