How to Lower Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer
10 Mar 2016

How to Lower Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer

It never occurred to me in my 30’s that I would need to start thinking about my colon health. But that’s exactly what happened. When I was 35, I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (UC). This is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by crampy, bloody diarrhea. It comes and goes and for me has been blessedly rare in its appearance.

But UC puts you at increased risk for colon cancer, so even though my flares are infrequent, regular screening colonoscopies are on my to do list.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

If you’re over 50, you may have gotten a colonoscopy for that milestone 50th birthday. If you did, good for you! If not, read on.

Colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in the US. AND it’s very treatable if caught early. Unfortunately, not everyone is lining up to get a screening colonoscopy… only about 60% of us do it. And by the time you have symptoms, it’s usually advanced and much harder to treat.

Tweet: Colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death in the US. AND it’s very treatable if caught early.

This type of cancer has several risk factors, some of which are modifiable and some of which are not.

Age:  As with many cancers, the risk of colorectal cancer increases with age. Ninety percent of new cases in the United States are in people over 50. African Americans tend to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer at a younger age than Caucasians.

Race: African Americans are more likely to get colorectal cancer than any other ethnic group. Unfortunately, they also are more likely to be diagnosed in advanced stages. In 2007, the rate of death from colon cancer among African Americans was 44 percent greater than that among whites.

Diet: Eating a diet high in processed meats (hot dogs and some lunch meats) and red meats (lamb, beef or liver) may increase your risk of developing the disease. Avoiding red meat and eating a low-fat diet rich in vegetables, fruit and fiber (e.g., broccoli, whole grains and beans) may reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Some studies suggest that boosting calcium intake (500-1200 mg/day) helps prevent colon cancer, but the jury is still out on this. Until further studies are done, men should keep their intake below 1,500 milligrams because of the possible increased risk of prostate cancer associated with calcium intake from dairy products.

Some research has also shown that vitamin D can help lower risk and there is also evidence suggesting that a diet high in magnesium may decrease colon cancer risk, especially in women. More research is necessary to find out if these links exists.

Lifestyle: Another significant risk factor in colorectal cancer is smoking. Get help quitting if you can’t do it on your own. And keep your alcohol intake to one drink a day or less (two drinks a day or less for men).

Obesity: Obesity has been associated with many types of cancers, including colorectal cancer. There is a strong link between higher BMI (body mass index) and waist circumference and colon cancer risk in men. There is a weaker association in women. High levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor may also play a role in development of colon cancer in obese people. Weight loss has been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer.

When to Call Your GI Specialist (or Family Physician) Immediately

If you’ve noticed changes in bowel habits, seen blood in your stool, lost weight without trying or had abdominal discomfort, call your doctor right away. These symptoms don’t necessarily mean you have colon cancer, but they do need to be checked out thoroughly.


Dr. Anna Garrett is a menopause expert and Doctor of Pharmacy. She helps women who are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause find natural hormone balancing solutions so they can rock their mojo through midlife and beyond. Her clients would tell you that her real gift is helping them reclaim parts of themselves they thought were gone forever.

Find out more about working with her at

Dr. Anna Garrett

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