Colorectal Cancer Prevention

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Couple running, maintaining ahealthy weight can help prevent colorectal cancer

Screening for Colorectal Cancer


Colorectal cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, yet also one of the more preventable. That is because screening for colorectal cancer can actually prevent you from getting colorectal cancer.


Screening can find pre-cancerous abnormal growths (called polyps) and remove them before the polyps become cancerous. In addition to preventing colorectal cancer, screening is the only way to detect colorectal cancer before it becomes a serious problem.


While screening is the best way to prevent colorectal cancer, there are some lifestyle changes and behaviors that help reduce your risk for colorectal cancer over time:

  1. Have a physically active lifestyle
  2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  3. Maintain a healthy weight
  4. Quit or don't start smoking

1. Have a Physically Active Lifestyle


The American Cancer Society recommends adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate or vigorous physical activity five or more days of the week.


Take a look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations for physical activity for everyone. Make sure to include all three components of exercise into your routine each week:

Don't have 30 minutes to spare? You can get the same health benefits by exercising three times a day for 10 minutes at a time.


Being physically active does not always require structured physical exercise every day. By taking opportunities throughout your day to just move more frequently, such as taking a walk with a friend or choosing the stairs instead of an elevator or escalator, you can increase your activity level, burn more calories, and receive similar results to the benefits of structured exercise. UW Health has resources available to help you start an exercise routine and tips on how to fit activity into your everyday life.


Many people are healthy enough to start an exercise routine Learn what you should consider before starting an exercise routine and whether you should talk with your provider.


2. Eat a Healthy, Balanced Diet


A diet high in fruits and vegetables can help decrease your risk for developing colorectal cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that you eat a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant sources:

  • Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat 5 or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day. Create healthy meals by filling half of each plate with fruits and vegetables to ensure your body gets enough of the minerals and vitamins offered by these food groups.
  • Choose whole grains such as whole wheat breads and pastas rather than processed (refined) grains
  • Limit how much processed and red meats such as beef and sausage you eat, which are high in fat and cholesterol. Instead choose leaner protein sources such as chicken, fish, and beans.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a new tool to help you assess your eating habits with the easy to follow Food Plate. The Food Plate stresses the importance of incorporating fruits and vegetables into each meal that you eat. For more information on the Food Plate and how it works and how you can use it, offers extensive resources.


UW Health Resources


Good nutrition is important for overall good health, though it can be overwhelming to change your habits. Start small with just a few changes in your everyday life. Learn how to make small changes in your eating habits and how to get your daily serving of five fruits and vegetables.


UW Health registered dietitians are also available to discuss nutrition therapy for patients with health conditions. The Nutrition and Health Education Program offers various services, classes, and resources including videos on nutrition topics, healthy recipes and a library of nutrition topics to help you make healthy meal choices.


3. Maintain a Healthy Weight

 Apple and stethoscope, maintaining a healthy weight

According to the National Cancer Institute, obesity and physical activity could contribute to 25-30 percent of colorectal cancer cases. You can decrease your risk for colorectal cancer and other health conditions by losing just 10 percent of your body weight.


Find out how your body mass index (BMI) affects your health and determine your own. And, learn more about weight management for health.


Make sure to talk with your health care provider for more information about how to reduce or maintain your weight and about the health benefits from being at a healthy weight.


4. Quit or Don't Start Smoking


Long-term smokers have a higher risk for developing colorectal cancer than those who do not smoke. According to the American Cancer Society, this is because some of the cancer-causing substances in cigarettes are swallowed and can cause increased risk digestive system cancers like colorectal cancer.


Are you ready to quit smoking? Take the test to find out


You can learn more about how smoking affects your health and your wallet. When you are ready to quit, make sure to talk with your health care provider about different options for stopping smoking. Check with your health insurance company. They may cover some therapies, such as medications.


Ongoing Research


While screening and a healthy lifestyle are two very important ways to help prevent colorectal cancer, there is still research being done on the disease and its prevention. For more information and helpful resources, please refer to the following: