Colon and Rectal Cancer Prevention Tips

Colon and rectal cancers (colorectal) are among the most common cancers in both men and women in the United States. They are also some of the most preventable – and treatable – of all cancers. 

During routine screening for colon and rectal cancer, physicians can find polyps (growths or lesions inside the large intestine) and remove them before they become cancerous. (Colon and rectal cancer arises from colon and rectal polyps.) A routine screening can also find colon and rectal cancer at its earliest stages when it can be more easily and successfully treated. 


Most people should start being screened for colon and rectal cancer at age 50. Your doctor may recommend you undergo screening at an earlier age and be screened more frequently if you or a first-degree relative who has had colorectal cancer or adenomatous colon polyps (benign polyps), if you have a long history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), or other known risk factors. 

Genetic Testing

Although genetic testing is not the best option for most of the general population, you may be a candidate for genetic testing if you have a personal or family history of colon or rectal cancer or other conditions, such as Lynch syndrome (a rare inherited condition). Mount Sinai has genetic counselors who can speak with you about your options and can provide you with referrals to appropriate resources. 

While screening is the most effective way to prevent colon and rectal cancer, studies show that there are lifestyle-related steps that might decrease your chances of developing colon and rectal cancer: 

A Healthy, Balanced Diet

Eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods (and limiting the amount of red and processed meat in your diet) is one of the best things you can do to lower your risk of colon and rectal cancer. Research has not proven that supplements, such as vitamin D, calcium, magnesium, folic acid (also known as folate), and resveratrol can lower colon and rectal cancer risk; studies are underway that may provide further evidence of the effectiveness of these and other supplements. 

Get Moving!

Physical inactivity increases your risk of developing colon and rectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity (such as brisk walking), or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity (activity that results in a faster heart rate, deeper breathing, and sweating), each week. Even if you can only squeeze in 10-minutes of physical activity at a time (walking, taking the stairs instead of the elevator), you can still derive benefits. Researchers are finding that sitting for long periods of time, regardless of your physical activity level, is unhealthy too. 

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight is linked to a variety of cancers, not just colon and rectal cancers. Most experts consider a BMI between 25 and 29.9 to be overweight. Talk with your doctor about a healthy weight loss plan, if you’re overweight. 

Quit smoking

The link between smoking and lung cancer is well-known. But lesser known is that fact that smoking can also cause cancers of the digestive system, such as colon and rectal cancer. If you’re a smoker, talk with your doctor about a smoking cessation program that’s right for you. 

Drink in Moderation

Heavy drinking is associated with numerous health problems, including colon and rectal cancer. Drink in moderation (no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men). 

Aspirin and other NSAIDS 

There is evidence that aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as naproxen (Aleve®) and ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) may decrease the risk of death from colon and rectal cancers. However, because aspirin can have side effects like bleeding from the bowels, you should consult your doctor before thinking of using aspirin or another NSAID for colon and rectal cancer prevention. 

We Can Help 

If you’d like more information about preventing colon and rectal cancer or would like to schedule an appointment, please call 212-241-6756.