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.

Follow cancer screening guidelines

Screening means checking or testing for disease in a group of people who don’t show any symptoms of the disease. If you follow the screening guidelines for colorectal cancer, it can be found before you notice symptoms. Follow the guidelines even when you feel well and healthy.

Screening tests for colorectal cancer can often find polyps that can be removed before they turn into cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends that men and women age 50 and over at average risk for colorectal cancer have a stool test (guaiac-based fecal occult blood test or fecal immunochemical test) at least every 2 years.

If you have a high risk of developing colorectal cancer, such as a first-degree relative with colorectal cancer, a personal history of colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel disease, some inherited syndromes or benign polyps, talk with your doctor to develop a screening plan that’s right for you. People at higher risk often begin screening for colorectal cancer before the age of 50.

Talk to your doctor to learn more about your personal risk for colorectal cancer and how you can take advantage of screening tests or programs. Find out more about screening for colorectal cancer.

Be physically active

Research shows that you can lower your risk of colorectal cancer by being physically active.

Maintain a healthy body weight

Research shows that being overweight or obese increases your risk of 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.

Be a non-smoker and avoid second-hand smoke

Smoking increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer, especially in heavy, long-term smokers. If you smoke, get help to quit. Avoid second-hand smoke.

Limit the amount of red and processed meats you eat

Diets that are high in red meat or include processed meats increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. Reducing the amount of red meat you eat and avoiding processed meats help reduce 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 of colorectal cancer. Limit cooking methods that rely on high temperatures, such as barbecuing, pan frying or broiling, to reduce 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. Evidence shows that eating foods containing dietary fibre reduces 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 (dried or canned)

Reduce sitting time

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

Learn about protective factors

Researchers are trying to find out if some drugs may help protect a person from developing colorectal cancer.

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

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 currently, NSAIDs are not 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

Women who take hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to relieve the symptoms of menopause 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 if you’re at high risk

Some people have a higher than average risk for colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk. There may be options for genetic risk assessment and genetic testing, more frequent testing or preventive (prophylactic) treatment.


People at high risk for colorectal cancer may have colonoscopies at regular intervals to look for signs of cancer and remove polyps.

Prophylactic colectomy

A 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).

More information about preventing cancer

Learn what you can do to prevent cancer.


A procedure that uses an endoscope (a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and lens) to examine or treat the colon.

Cells or tissue may be removed for examination under a microscope. Doctors may also use colonoscopy to control bleeding or remove polyps.

The type of endoscope used for this procedure is called a colonoscope.


Researcher Dr David Malkin Dr David Malkin is boosting patient survival with screening.

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Great progress has been made

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Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.

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