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Six Ways to Reduce Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

Last updated: Mar 20, 2019

An interview with: Neal Luppescu, MD, FACG

When it comes to risk factors for cancer there are some things you simply can’t change—your age, ethnicity, or family history. But there are also many areas over which you have control. From eating a nutritious diet to quitting smoking you can reduce your risk of developing cancer by making healthy lifestyle choices. Neal Luppescu, MD, a gastroenterologist at Summit Medical Group, explains six ways people can reduce their risk of colorectal cancer.

“There are numerous factors doctors have identified that affect your risk of developing colon cancer. The most important one is to schedule a regular colonoscopy screening,” says Dr. Luppescu.

 

1. Get a Colonoscopy

If you are healthy and do not have a family history of colorectal cancer, start screening at age 50. African Americans and individuals with close relatives who were diagnosed with either colon or rectal cancer should start testing earlier. Studies show that people who have colonoscopies done regularly can reduce their risk of colorectal cancer by 76 to 92 percent.

Dr. Luppescu’s advice: “Colonoscopy is a life-saving examination—it does not just find colon cancer at a more treatable stage, it also prevents the disease from developing by detecting and removing precancerous polyps. It is the single most important thing you can do to reduce your risk.”

 

2. Take a Stool Test

While colonoscopy will detect almost 100 percent of colon cancers and 90 percent or more of precancerous polyps, some people cannot have a colonoscopy. Stool based tests may be appropriate for these people instead of a colonoscopy.   The stool samples will check for blood in the stool as a sign of abnormalities, and sometimes can check for cancer cells present in the stool.

Dr. Luppescu’s advice: “The best colon cancer screening test is the one a patient is willing to have done. If they are unsure about colonoscopy then a stool-based screening test is the next best choice.”

 

3. Eat a Nutritious Diet

Modify your diet to be high in both fiber and folic acid, and low in animal fat. Fill your plate with fruits, leafy vegetables like spinach, and beans. Limit red meats—especially those cooked at high temperatures on a grill. The cooking process may produce chemicals that promote the development of cancer. While studies show that individuals who eat a diet high in folic acid have a reduced risk of colon cancer, folic acid supplements have not been found to have the same benefit. Diets that are high in calcium have also been shown to lower the likelihood of developing new polyps.

Dr. Luppescu’s advice: “While an association has been made between certain healthy diets and a reduced risk of colon cancer, most studies have not found that supplements of folic acid or calcium can achieve the same effects.” 

 

4. Maintain a Normal Weight

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Excess weight, particularly in the abdomen, is linked to increased risk for many types of cancer. According to the American Heart Association, your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes also increases if your waist circumference is greater than 40 inches in men or 35 inches in women. 

Dr. Luppescu’s advice: “Maintaining a normal weight is good for so many reasons and reducing colon cancer is one of them. Obesity can also lead to insulin resistance and the development of type 2 diabetes. Research has shown that type 2 diabetes is also associated with increased risk of colorectal cancers.”

 

5. Get Moving

Exercising will help you shed those extra pounds. But even if you are of a normal weight, you still need to exercise regularly to stay healthy and reduce your risk of colon cancer. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week. 

Dr. Luppescu’s advice: “Find exercise that you enjoy. Take a family walk or join a fun upbeat workout class. Change up your routine every few months so you do not get bored.”

 

6. Quit Smoking and Limit Alcohol

Several studies have shown that cigarette smoking greatly increases the risk of developing both colon polyps and cancer. Regular alcohol consumption also has an important effect. One study showed that individuals who have two to three alcoholic beverages each day have a 20 percent higher risk of developing colon cancer. That risk increased to 50 percent when someone had more than four alcoholic drinks a day. 

Dr. Luppescu’s advice: “Summit Medical Group has numerous smoking cessation programs that can help. It can greatly reduce your risk of developing colon cancer as well as other serious conditions like heart attack and stroke.”

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