What Lifestyle Factors Increase My Chances of Getting Colorectal Cancer?

by Walter Coyle, MD

There are a variety of risk factors for colon cancer. Some you can’t do anything about, like family history. Other factors, associated with lifestyle, can be adjusted to improve your odds.

Let’s start with the risk factors you can’t alter. These include your genetics, race and age. Having an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or colitis, can also increase your risk.

Fortunately, there are many more factors that, with a little diligence, can easily be controlled. They are the usual suspects: smoking, alcohol, exercise and diet. In other words, eat healthy, work out more, don’t smoke and limit your alcohol. These are just good overall rules for healthy living that will also reduce your risk of getting heart disease, diabetes, cancer and a number of other conditions.

Special consideration should be given to diet, since the colon is built to process what you eat. Stay away from high fat foods, charred meats and processed foods. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables, lean protein and whole grains. Also remember, exercise doesn’t mean killing yourself at the gym for hours each day. A brisk 30 minute walk each day (15 minutes up, 15 minutes back) can do wonders for your health.

Regardless of your lifestyle, you should get periodic colon cancer screenings. These generally start at age 50, but talk to your physician. If you have family history or other risk factors, you may need to start screening earlier.

This Scripps Health and Wellness tip was provided by Walter Coyle, MD, a gastroenterologist at Scripps Clinic in San Diego.