By Tomislav Dragovich, MD, Medical Oncology and Hematology Section Chief at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center
Question: How can I reduce my risk of colon cancer?
Answer: The risk of developing colon cancer is influenced by key factors that include genetic predisposition, some preexisting medical conditions and lifestyle.
Step One: Ask your physician to evaluate your risk based on your family history of colon cancer and any preexisting conditions you have that would increase your likelihood of developing the disease. For example, if a family member developed colon cancer before age 50, or you have an inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis, you have a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
Step Two: Get screened. If your risk is low, start your colon cancer screenings at age 50 and repeat every five to 10 years. If your screening reveals something that may be precancerous, your doctor will specify more frequent screenings. If your initial risk is medium or high, your physician will recommend that you start your screenings at a younger age and with higher frequency. If you’re already 50 or older and have never been screened, start now.
Step Three: Talk to your physician about taking certain supplements. Many vitamins and medications have been investigated for their ability to prevent colon cancer. While, for many, the jury is still out, you may consider taking 1,000 to 1,500 mg of calcium and one baby aspirin, which is 81 mg, daily. It is important to first consult with your physician, because certain supplements may cause some harmful side effects in some people.
Step Four: Commit to a healthy lifestyle.
- Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, vegetable oils and fiber. Avoid red meat, processed foods and sugar, and fatty foods.
- Maintain a low body mass index and stay physically fit.
- Don’t expect to lower your risk by following a healthy lifestyle for just a few months. You really have to commit to these lifestyle changes.