Colorectal Cancer Prevention
Peer Review Status: Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center, Cancer Information Service
First Published: February 2001
Last Revised: May 2003
Cancer of the colon or rectum is often called colorectal cancer. The
colon and the rectum are part of the large intestine, which is part
of the digestive system. Colorectal cancers are the third
most common cancers in men and women. You can take an active role in
the prevention and early detection of colorectal cancer. Steps you
can take include:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat no more than 1 serving of red meat each day.
- Eat at least three servings of vegetables each day. Vegetables
contain folic acid, a B vitamin that scientists believe helps keep
colon cells from becoming cancerous.
- Drink less than 1 alcoholic drink per day.
- Take a multivitamin every day. Again, the folic acid helps
lower the risk of colon cancer.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes each day.
- Talk with your personal physician about screening tests for
colorectal cancer. People who get screened regularly for colon
cancer have a lower risk of the disease. Screening tests can
prevent colon cancer by finding polyps in the colon. These can then be removed at an early stage. Polyps are small, non-cancerous tumors in the colon or
rectum, and they sometimes turn into cancer.
There are five screening tests for colon cancer. Talk with your
doctor about which tests are right for you. The five screening tests
- Digital rectal exam: The doctor gently inserts a gloved,
lubricated finger into the rectum and feels for abnormal areas.
- Fecal occult blood test: This tests samples of stool for
blood that is not visible to the eye. Blood can be a sign of polyps,
other benign conditions, or cancer.
- Sigmoidoscopy: The doctor inserts a small, flexible lighted
tube into the rectum and lower colon to inspect up to 25 inches of
the lower bowel. Polyps can be easily removed during this exam.
- Colonoscopy: The doctor is able to inspect the entire colon
with an instrument similar to a sigmoidoscope, but longer. Any polyps
or suspicious growths can be removed during this exam.
- Barium enema with air contrast examination: For this exam,
barium sulfate, a chalky substance that shows up on x-rays, is given
in enema form. X-rays are then taken of the colon. To make small
tumors easier to see, the doctor may carefully pump in air to expand