Colorectal Cancer (Bowel Cancer) Risk Factors and Prevention


Because several of the risk factors listed above are related to lifestyle, there are ways to reduce risk of colorectal cancer.

Prevention of colorectal cancer

Primary prevention refers to several actions an individual can take to reduce the risk of developing colorectal cancer, while secondary prevention refers to screening practices.

Primary prevention

Primary prevention practices include the following:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Avoiding obesity can reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. If you are overweight, a good starting point can be to try to stop gaining weight, which has health benefits by itself. Then, for a bigger health boost, slowly work to lose some weight over time. Also try to be physically active several times a week.
  • Limit alcohol and tobacco use. Smoking and drinking are major risk factors for most types of cancer, including colorectal cancer.
  • Eat a healthy diet and limit red and processed meats. Try to limit intake of red meat, which includes steaks, burgers and pork, and processed meats such as bacon, sausages and processed sandwich meat. Eating healthy and unprocessed or limited processed foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, limiting red and processed meats and sugary drinks, lowers the overall risk of colorectal cancer.

Of course, healthy living is not a cast-iron guarantee against cancer, but it lowers the risk of developing the disease and it is something that you can fully control. In the same way, careful drivers cannot guarantee that they will never get into an accident due to events beyond their control, but they are much less likely to do so than reckless ones.

Secondary prevention – screening

  • Colorectal cancer is one of the very few cancers that can be prevented through screening. Indeed, regular screening over the age of 50 is probably the single best way to prevent colorectal cancer. Screening can identify polyps that are not yet cancerous but could become so in the future. It can also detect colorectal cancer in the very early stages, before symptoms have started. And in its early stages, colorectal cancer is highly treatable – doctors are often able to cure it completely. There is much more about screening – how it works, what to expect – in the Symptoms, Screening and Diagnosis section.

Don’t die of embarrassment

We know that colorectal cancer can still be a taboo subject. Not everybody is comfortable talking colons, rectums, stools, poo and so on. We understand. But as a society, we simply need to get better at it. And as individuals, we need to try to overcome any feelings of embarrassment, because it could literally make the difference between life and death. Remember, doctors are used to talking about these things every single day and will not be at all embarrassed to discuss them.

Embarrassment and a lack of good, clear information both play a big role in people not discussing prevention and screening options with their doctor. This leads to many people being diagnosed at a late stage, which makes the disease much more difficult to treat. People are dying unnecessarily as a result. Do not let that happen to you. If you suspect you have any symptoms, please see your family doctor. And if you receive an invitation to be screened for colorectal cancer, please accept it.

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