Colon Cancer Prevention

A number of medical procedures and lifestyle changes have been shown to reduce the likelihood of developing CRC.

Screening for Polyps

Screening for the presence of pre-cancerous polyps in the colon is by far the best way to reduce your chances.

Consult your physician who can advise you about the various types of routine screening tests available. Current thinking recommends that people at average risk should start screening at age fifty. Those at increased risk should start screening as early as age forty.

Smoking Cessation

A recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute has identified a link between smoking for a period of twenty years or more and death from CRC.

Although a well-established link already exists between smoking and the development of eight other types of cancer, only recently has a link been confirmed between long-term smoking and CRC mortality.

Researchers at the American Cancer Society (ACS) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have confirmed that smoking for twenty years or more increases the risk of dying from colorectal cancer by around forty percent.

The longer the person has smoked and the larger the number of cigarettes smoked, the greater the risk. The ACS study found, for example, that those subjects who smoked more than forty cigarettes (two packs) a day increased their risk by as much as 54 percent compared with people who had never smoked.

Age was another important factor, with those people who started smoking before age fifteen increasing their risk by up to 47 percent.

Excess alcohol consumption and smoking may increase the risk of developing CRCDecreased Alcohol Consumption

Several studies worldwide have concluded that excess alcohol consumption may increase the risk of developing CRC. Although more research is required, current indications point to a greater risk among men. Increasing evidence is emerging, however, that women too are at increased risk if they consume more than eleven units of alcohol per week.

Also, both men and women who combine alcohol consumption with smoking further increase their risk of developing not only CRC but also other cancers, including those of the gastrointestinal tract.

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT)

A number of clinical trials have found that subjects taking HRT were at reduced risk of developing CRC. It would also appear that those using hormone replacement therapy for extended periods of five to ten years reduced their risk by up to fifty percent. Since HRT appears to exacerbate the risk of other diseases, though, consult your physician to discuss the benefits for you, given your family history and other facts.

Dietary Supplements

Findings from several studies suggest that taking dietary supplements such as calcium, folic acid and vitamin D may help decrease the risk of developing CRC.

More research is required, as evidence to date remains inconclusive.

Gabriel Feldman, MD, National Director of the ACS Colorectal Cancer Research Division, does concede, however, that calcium, taken in the form of a dietary supplement, may help prevent CRC.

Aspirin Therapy

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (July 2000) found that an aspirin- related compound could help prevent CRC.

According to Karin Mueller-Decker of The Research Program Tumor Cell Regulation, (Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, Heidelberg), an aspirin-type compound “may represent a milestone in cancer prevention in humans.”

The study referred to by Mueller-Decker involved using the aspirin derivative to treat patients with pre-cancerous polyps in the colon.

Researchers at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas also discovered that in clinical trials, an aspirin type drug called Celecoxib resulted in an average 28 percent reduction in the number of polyps in patients with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).


An overwhelming body of research has concluded that increased physical activity and regular exercise can play an important role in reducing the risk of CRC.

To have an impact on health, fitness and weight reduction, moderate exercise such as brisk walking for a minimum of twenty minutes a day, at least four days a week is recommended. Even a daily routine of climbing stairs instead of taking the elevator can make a significant difference.

Low Fat/High Fiber Diet

Research suggests that a diet low in saturated animal fat, particularly red “muscle” meats, can help prevent colorectal cancer. A diet high in fiber (whole wheat breads, whole grains, rice, vegetables and fruits) is recommended.

For more information about how diet affects health see Diet and Health.

Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) in Cooked Meats

Worldwide research has found that when “muscle” type meats such as beef, pork and poultry, as well as certain fish are cooked at high temperatures, a chemical reaction occurs that changes the composition of the meat or fish. The cooking process produces carcinogenic chemical compounds (substances capable of causing cancer) called heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which may increase cancer risk.

Researchers have isolated seventeen different heterocyclic amines created while cooking meats and fish at a high temperature.

The NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics has also identified a specific link between an increased risk of developing colorectal, pancreatic and breast cancer with high consumption of charred, barbecued, fried or highly cooked muscle meats.

The Dairy Product and Milk Consumption Controversy

Much debate currently surrounds the issue of whether milk and dairy products can help prevent colorectal cancer.

A study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association (September 23, 2002) has identified a link between the consumption of low fat dairy products and a decreased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The study, conducted at the St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, involved monitoring seventy male and female subjects with abnormally rapid cell growth in the colon. One group ate a low fat dairy diet; the other group ate a “normal” dairy diet.

Researchers concluded that subjects whose diet was rich in low fat dairy products had fewer pre-cancerous cells and a slower rate of cell growth in the colon than subjects in the control group who ate a “conventional” diet.

The consensus, however, is that further research is required.