The 4 Best Ways to Slash Your Colon Cancer Risk, According to Doctors

A few simple habits can help reduce your chance of developing this life-threatening disease.

Your lifestyle and daily habits can either increase or lower your risk of developing chronic diseases including heart disease, obesity, and certain types of cancer. One of these is colorectal cancer—the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. Colorectal cancer is expected to kill over 52,500 Americans in 2022, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise are significant contributors to your risk of contracting it. That's why it's critical to adopt a healthy lifestyle sooner rather than later. Read on for four simple things you can do to lower your chance of being diagnosed with this particular type of cancer.

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Move your body more

High Intensity Workout Class
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Regular physical activity helps slash your risk of all types of cancer. For example, a 2021 meta-analysis of several studies examining the link between various forms of physical activity and colon cancer risk concluded that increased levels of exercise substantially decreases your risk of colon and rectal cancer. Moreover, other studies have observed that colon cancer survivors who are more physically active have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and a higher survival rate than sedentary survivors.

Ben Wilkinson, MD, a radiation oncologist for Coastal Radiation Oncology in collaboration with GenesisCare, tells Best Life, "It's recommended to do mid-to-high intensity exercise at least three times per week for at least 30 minutes each session. It's even better if you can find the time to get some exercise every day, even if it's just a long walk around the neighborhood. If you're not currently active, start small with attainable goals of a few minutes of activity. Achieving small activity goals goes a long way toward building lifelong habits."

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Go with a gut-healthy diet

Healthy Food Spread
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According to a 2019 meta-analysis published in the Macedonian Journal of Medical Sciences, dietary habits cause an estimated 30 to 50 percent of colorectal cancer cases worldwide—and when it comes to reducing your colon cancer risk, no nutrient is more critical than fiber. Daily fiber consumption improves digestion and gut health, significantly reducing your colon cancer risk.

The best way to get more fiber in your diet is by eating a plant-based diet and cutting out meat and dairy. A meta-review of several studies published in Current Nutrition Reports earlier this year found that people eating a plant-based diet had reduced overall cancer risks, including colorectal cancer. That's because plant-based diets are abundant in fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds—all of which are excellent sources of fiber. The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends getting at least 30 grams of fiber a day to ward off disease.

"Eating a diet high in fiber and low in saturated fats and added sugars reduces the risk of colon and rectal cancer," Wilkinson says. "The most impactful changes we can make to our food choices include adding fruits, the right kinds of vegetables, and whole grains to our meals. Some of the best vegetables for us are cruciferous veggies such as broccoli, kale, and Brussels sprouts that contain special phytochemicals which can slow the growth of cancer cells."

Reduce alcohol consumption and avoid tobacco use

Wine Being Poured
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Alcohol and tobacco are widely acknowledged to be problematic for your health, but a lesser-known fact is that they can also send your colon cancer risk soaring. A study of over 4,900 participants published in the British Journal of Cancer (BJC) found that smoking was associated with a 59 percent spike in colorectal cancer risk, while regular alcohol consumption was linked to a 30 percent increase.

"Smoking doesn't just cause lung cancer, and drinking alcohol doesn't just hurt your liver; these two habits have been linked to colon cancer and can affect many different parts of our bodies and keep us from living our longest and healthiest lives," says Wilkinson.

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Maintain a healthy weight

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One of the best things you can do to lower your colon cancer risk is to maintain healthy body weight. According to the World Cancer Research Fund International (WCRF), a substantial amount of research has linked higher body fat levels with an increased risk of colon and rectal cancers. Obesity is now considered a "global health burden" and is estimated to cause roughly 20 percent of cancer-related deaths.

"Being overweight or obese has many health detriments, and unfortunately, one of them is the increased risk of developing colon cancer," says Wilkinson. "If you're overweight or obese, start making small positive changes one day at a time and plan to make incremental improvements week after week. Having a buddy you check in with regularly can help you stay accountable, whether that's your spouse, a close friend, or a personal trainer."

Adam Meyer
Adam is a health writer, certified holistic nutritionist, and 100% plant-based athlete. Read more
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