August 25, 2021

7 things you can do to help prevent colon cancer

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Colon cancer is being detected in younger people at a higher rate than in the past. How to help avoid this common cancer.

Cancer of the colon or rectum is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the U.S. 

For years, most people were advised to get screened for colon cancer starting at age 50. In recent years, however, there has been a trend of colon cancer being detected at a more frequent rate in people younger than that -– as much as a 51% increase in the incidence of colorectal cancer among people younger than 50 years old.

Colon cancer sometimes does not show any symptoms, but it may cause these:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Recurrent stomach pain or cramping
  • Stools narrower than usual
  • Unexplained weight loss

Choices you make today could protect you against this disease. 

6 lifelong habits that help prevent colon cancer

Research shows that the following strategies may help prevent colon cancer:

  • Maintain a healthy weight and participate in regular physical activity.
  • Limit your intake of red meat and animal fats.
  • Eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Limit how much alcohol you drink. 
  • Don’t smoke. If you’re a smoker, quit
  • Be sure you’re taking in enough vitamin D3. Studies suggest that higher vitamin D3 levels are associated with lower colon cancer incidence, fewer recurring polyps and better survival rates among colon cancer patients, says the World Journal of Gastrointestinal Oncology. Talk to your primary care provider about whether you should take a vitamin D supplement.

The seventh strategy is a cancer screening.

Colon cancer does not always create symptoms, especially in its early stages. That’s why regular screenings are so important. 

The American Cancer Society recommends people with an average risk for colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. This is earlier than the previous advice to start at age 50.

If you have an increased risk for colorectal cancer, you may need to get tested at an earlier age. People at increased risk include:

  • Individuals with a personal or family history of colon cancer or polyps, which are precancerous growths in the colon or rectum.
  • Anyone with inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.

Talk to your health care provider about when to begin screening and which test is best for you. Screening options include:

  • Colonoscopy
  • CT colonography
  • Fecal immunohistochemical testing (FIT) and multitargeted stool DNA (mt-sDNA) testing, known as Cologuard
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
White woman rides an exercise bike.

Cancer Checks Save Lives

Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Colonoscopies can detect this cancer in its early stages and greatly increase your chances of survival.

For information and an appointment for a screening, see VanderbiltHealth.com/CancerScreening.

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