Reduce Your Risk of Colorectal Cancer

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer can occur at any age. In recent years, the incidence of colon cancer and rectal cancer in people under 50 has increased. Risk factors for colon and rectal cancer include inflammatory bowel disease, family history of colon cancer and rectal cancer, and genetic syndromes. While colorectal cancer can run in families, most patients diagnosed will not have a family history of the condition. Additional risk factors are then explored, including lack of physical activity, diet, alcohol consumption and smoking. The following are tips for reducing your risk of colorectal cancer.

Stay up to date with your screening colonoscopies. An average-risk patient should begin screening exams at 45 years of age. Patients with inflammatory bowel disease, certain genetic conditions, or a family history of colorectal cancer are advised to begin screening at a younger age. The frequency of repeat screenings will vary based on the patient’s medical history and the findings from previous screenings.

Maintaining a low-fat and high-fiber diet is beneficial. I recommend patients aim for 25-35 grams of fiber a day. It is also important to try to limit red meat and processed meat intake as there are chemicals naturally found in red meat and processed meat, and chemicals added to and released during the cooking process, that can cause damage to the cells of the bowel.

Exercise and maintenance of a healthy weight aid in risk reduction. Lack of physical activity and obesity are risk factors associated with colorectal cancer. These risk factors can be controlled through regular exercise and a balanced diet.

Be mindful of tobacco use and alcohol consumption. Tobacco and alcohol use increase your risk of colorectal cancer. I would advise patients to quit smoking and limit alcohol intake to one or fewer drinks a day.

About the Author: Robin Friedman, MD, is a colon and rectal surgeon at Valley Medical Group. She specializes in colon and rectal cancer, advanced robotic and laparoscopic colon and rectal surgery, benign colon and anorectal disease, diverticulitis, and the surgical management of inflammatory bowel disease. For more information about colorectal cancer care at Valley-Mount Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Care, please visit

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