Colon Cancer: Reducing Your Risk

Colonoscopies can find and prevent colon cancer.

Walking to have a healthy lifestyle

What you need to know

Almost all colorectal cancers begin with a precancerous polyp in the colon or rectum. A colonoscopy can stop cancer, because during the procedure, your doctor can see — and remove — those polyps.

Being aware of symptoms can also help you and your doctor be on the lookout for colon cancer. Pay attention to:

  • A change in bowel habits that last for more than a few days, including diarrhea or constipation
  • The urge to have a bowel movement that is not relieved once complete
  • Bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Abdominal pain or cramping
  • Unexplained weakness, fatigue or weight loss

Schedule an appointment

To schedule your testing, talk to your primary care doctor or find a doctor.

These may be signs of other conditions, including infections, hemorrhoids, irritable bowel syndrome, or inflammatory bowel disease. If you are having any of these symptoms, call your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated as early as possible.

Keep in mind that most colorectal cancers have NO symptoms, until the cancer is large or has spread. That is one reason why screening is so important.

Colonoscopy and other screening options

Most people should start screening at age 45. Those with a family history of colon cancer, or other risk factors, may need to begin screening tests earlier. Your doctor can help you determine when you should begin. As with many cancers, early detection is your best defense against colon and rectal cancer. The Black community faces the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the US, compared to any other racial/ethnic group.

Learn more about why a colonoscopy is your best defense against colon cancer. Talk to your doctor about whether these other choices are right for you:

  • FIT, a take-home stool test
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Stool DNA test
  • CT colonography (computed tomographic colonography, also known as "virtual" colonoscopy)
  • Double contrast barium enema

Smart choices

Anyone can get colon cancer. Certain people may have an increased risk, such as those with a personal or family history of colorectal polyps, colon cancer or certain inherited syndromes. Those with ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease may also have a greater risk. But there are some things you can do to lower your risk for colon or rectal cancer, such as: 

  • Do not smoke
  • Drink in moderation: Two or fewer drinks per day
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a healthy diet: Lots of fruits and vegetables, and limited red meat. Avoid processed meats. 
  • Consider aspirin: Which may decrease the risk of colon cancer. Talk with your doctor first, there may be side-effects.
  • Get enough vitamin D
  • Take care of those polyps: Colon and rectal polyps can turn into cancer. Removing polyps during colonoscopy may lower your risk of cancer.

One large study has shown that by not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and eating a healthy diet, you can cut your risk for colorectal cancer by 37 percent. 

Schedule an appointment

To schedule your testing, talk to your primary care doctor or find a doctor.