Am I at Risk?


What diet should I follow to prevent colorectal cancer from occurring? Are there any foods that actually cause colorectal cancer?

There are no foods that cause colorectal cancer. However, there appears to be a slightly increased risk of developing colorectal cancer in countries with higher red meat, processed meat, or non-dairy (meat-associated) fat intake. Similarly, decreased rates of colorectal cancer have been linked to increased fiber intake, though studies are not conclusive.  In general, experts recommend a diet high in vegetable fiber, low in fat, low in processed foods, and moderate to low amounts of red meat. There remain many unanswered questions in this area. No matter what your dietary intake is, remember to ask your doctor about the appropriate screening test to identify polyps and early cancers.

Can vitamins help prevent colon cancer?

Green vegetables, which are rich in the antioxidant vitamins C, E and beta-carotene and a good source of dietary fiber, seem to provide some protection against colorectal cancer. Tea catechins and related polyphenols may have a positive effect. Grape juice also may help inhibit development of colorectal cancer. Finally, calcium, vitamin D and, perhaps, folic acid appear to have protective effects in the colon. Clinical trials are needed to find out more. Be careful of over-the-counter dietary supplements touted to decrease the risk of colon (or any other) cancer. Let your doctor know if you are taking any over-the-counter medications to try to decrease your cancer risk, so he or she can make sure that they are right for you.

Does fiber play a protective role in colorectal cancer?

The question of whether fiber plays a protective role against colorectal cancer is controversial. Early studies suggested that fiber is indeed protective, whereas more recent and highly publicized studies find no protective effect. Pending additional studies that may resolve this controversy, a high-fiber diet is recommended because of its overall nutritional value, and because it promotes good bowel function. Furthermore, fiber is also beneficial for individuals with diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and a variety of other medical conditions.

Are there lifestyle changes that I can make to prevent colon cancer?

There are several lifestyle factors that seem to influence the risk of colon cancer. Smoking has been associated with an increased risk of multiple cancers including colon cancer. Additionally, being overweight or obese and leading a relatively inactive, sedentary lifestyle has been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. In general we recommend leading a healthy lifestyle by incorporating routine exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a nutritious diet, and abstaining from tobacco.  

Does an aspirin a day help?

There is evidence that suggests that people who are regularly taking aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and naproxen may have lower risks of colon cancer than others. However, these medications also may have unwanted side effects, such as stomach inflammation and ulcers. If your doctor has already prescribed aspirin to help protect your heart, you may also be lowering your risk of colon cancer. However, if you have not been put on an aspirin regimen by your doctor, do not start taking aspirin without consulting with your physician. It may not be right for you.