Colorectal cancer

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Reducing your risk for colorectal cancer

You may lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer by doing the following.

Move more, sit less

Research shows that regular physical activity can lower your risk for colorectal cancer. Adults should aim for 30 minutes of moderate daily activity such as walking or household chores like vacuuming.

Research also shows that sedentary time, or sitting time, increases your risk for colorectal cancer. You can lower your risk by sitting less and taking frequent, short breaks from sitting.

Have a healthy body weight

Research shows that being overweight or obese increases your risk for colorectal cancer. You can lower your risk by having a healthy body weight. Eating well and being physically active can help you have a healthy body weight.

Limit the amount of alcohol you drink

Drinking alcohol can increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. If you choose to drink alcohol, keep it to less than 1 drink a day for women and less than 2 drinks a day for men. The less you drink, the more you reduce your risk.

Live smoke-free

Smoking tobacco increases the risk of precancerous conditions and cancer of the colon or rectum. If you smoke, get help to quit smoking.

Limit the amount of red and processed meats you eat

Diets that are high in red meat or include processed meats increase the risk for colorectal cancer. Eating less red meat and avoiding processed meats help lower your risk.

Meats cooked at high temperatures create some cancer-causing chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These chemicals increase the risk for colorectal cancer. Limit cooking methods that rely on high temperatures, such as barbecuing, pan frying or broiling, to lower the amount of harmful chemicals.

Eat foods that are high in fibre

Fibre helps keep the digestive system healthy and the bowels regular. Fibre increases the bulk of stools and speeds up the movement of food through the colon. Research shows that eating foods containing dietary fibre lowers the risk of colorectal cancer.

Foods that are high in fibre include:

  • vegetables and fruit
  • whole grains and grain products
  • legumes, including beans, peas and lentils

Eat dairy products

Research shows that eating dairy products lowers the risk for colorectal cancer.

Follow cancer screening guidelines

If you follow the screening guidelines for colorectal cancer, the cancer can be found before you notice symptoms. Follow the guidelines even when you feel well and healthy. Have a stool test every 2 years if you are between 50 and 74 years of age and aren’t at high risk for colorectal cancer. If you are at high risk for colorectal cancer, you may need to be tested more often and at an earlier age. Talk to your doctor about your risk.

Find out more about screening for colorectal cancer.

Learn about protective factors

Some drugs may help to protect you from developing colorectal cancer.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetylsalicylic acid (ASA, Aspirin), are a class of drugs that reduce tissue inflammation and help control pain. Research shows that people who take NSAIDs have a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer. But NSAIDs are not currently recommended as a way to prevent colorectal cancer. More research is needed to further our understanding of the role NSAIDs may play in prevention.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may be taken to relieve the symptoms of menopause. Women who take HRT may have a lower risk of developing colorectal cancer. But women who take HRT have a higher than average risk of developing breast cancer and other conditions, such as heart attack, stroke and blood clots. HRT is not recommended as a way to prevent colorectal cancer. Find out more about hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Find out if you’re at high risk for colorectal cancer

Some people can have a higher than average risk for colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk. If you are at higher than average risk, you may need to visit your doctor more often to check for colorectal cancer. Your doctor will recommend what tests you should have and how often you should have them.

Colonoscopy uses an endoscope (a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and lens) to examine or treat the colon. People at high risk for colorectal cancer may have colonoscopies at regular intervals to look for signs of cancer and remove polyps.

Prophylactic colectomy is surgery to remove the whole colon before colorectal cancer is diagnosed. This option may be offered to people with ulcerative colitis, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (also called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC).

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