Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 22 and that approximately 101,420 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2019.

While these statistics may be startling, the good news is that 75 percent of all colon cancers can be prevented with healthy lifestyle choices. A whopping 50 percent of all colon cancer deaths could be prevented if everyone 50 years and older received proper screening for colon cancer! Use the six tips below as a guide to lowering your risk for developing colorectal cancer and increasing your chances of living an overall healthier life.

1. GET SCREENED

Getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is the single best way to protect yourself from developing the disease. Regular testing allows your physician to not only catch cancer during the early stages when it is most treatable, it may also prevent the disease by finding polyps before they turn into cancer.

For individuals without a family history of the disease or certain risk factors, physicians recommend screening beginning at age 50. Why 50? The risk of colon cancer increases with age and more than 90 percent of cases are diagnosed in individuals 50 years and older. Discuss your family history and your risk factors with your physician at your next check-up to determine a screening schedule appropriate for you.

2. KNOW YOUR FAMILY HISTORY

In order to discuss your family history with your physician, you need to know your family history! People with a direct relative who has had colorectal cancer are two to three times more at risk of developing the disease compared to those without a family history.

Talk to family members about health history and record the names and age of diagnosis of close relatives from both sides, even if they are not biologically related. Factors that influence risk for colorectal cancer include environment, behavior, and lifestyle. Regardless of blood relations, family members often share social and environmental exposures that may influence health risks.

3. DON'T SMOKE, AND IF YOU DO, QUIT

Smoking tobacco increases your risk of cancer in general, but studies show carcinogens in cigarettes can increase the size of existing polyps. Studies also show that smokers are 18 percent more likely than nonsmokers to develop colorectal cancer, and are 25 percent more likely to die from the disease.

4. MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT THROUGH DIET & EXERCISE

Other than smoking, nothing raises your risk for colorectal cancer more than being overweight. When it comes to carrying around extra weight, belly fat at the waistline increases your chance of colorectal cancer the most. The CDC recommends combining a nutritious diet with 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week to maintain a healthy weight.

5. LIMIT RED AND PROCESSED MEAT

Diets high in red meat—especially processed meats like bacon, sausage, or hot dogs—are linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, people who consume 3.5 ounces (just over one serving) of red meat every day will have a 17 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer compared to someone who does not eat red meat. Similarly, people who eat 3.5 ounces of processed meat a day will have a 36 percent increased risk compared to people who avoid processed meat. The American Cancer Society recommends limiting yourself to two lean cut, 4-ounce portions or less of red meat each week.

6. DRINK ALCOHOL IN MODERATION

Alcohol is a known carcinogen and increases your risk of several forms of cancer, including colorectal. The American Cancer Society recommends limiting alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.

To learn more about colorectal cancer, visit the CDC’s  website.

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