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Simple steps you can take

You may have heard this before, but we can’t say it enough: Regular colon cancer screenings and doctor’s visits can save lives and help catch colon cancer in its early stages. 

Colon and rectal cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, affects both men and women, and all racial and ethnic groups. Often there are no warning signs or symptoms of the disease until it reaches advanced stages, which is why routine screenings are so important. 

As we age, the risk of colorectal cancer increases. Smoking, poor diet and having a family history of colorectal cancer or polpys can also increase your chances of developing colon cancer – which is why it’s important to take care of your health now and help lower your risk for the future.

Here are three simple steps you can take to help decrease your chances for colon cancer.

1. Regular colorectal cancer screenings

Colorectal cancer can develop as abnormal cells called polyps. These growths are noncancerous to start but can develop into colorectal cancer in 10 to 15 years or in some cases sooner depending on how aggressive they are. Once found, polyps can be removed quickly – the earlier the cancer is found, the easier it is to treat, and if found early enough often that chemotherapy can be avoided.

“Colon cancer is very treatable and even curable if it’s caught before it can progress to later stages,” explains Dr. Julie Woods, an oncologist at Geisinger. “Unfortunately, patients often don’t have symptoms. Early intervention is only possible through preventative steps.”

With regular screenings, including colonoscopy, depending on your age and medical history, you can lower your risk. 

2. Diet and exercise

Being overweight and living a sedentary lifestyle can greatly increase your chances of developing colorectal cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight and participating in moderate or vigorous activity daily can greatly reduce your risk. Additionally, a wholesome diet high in vegetables, fruit and whole grains can have a positive effect.

“Adding high fiber foods, like whole grains, can help fight colon cancer,” says Dr. Woods. “Increasing these foods and altering your diet can decrease your risk.” By limiting your intake of red and processed meats and increasing fiber, you can avoid the added risk.

3. Avoiding alcohol and smoking

Drinking excessively and long-term smoking can not only cause colorectal cancer, but several other cancers as well. The chance of developing this disease is greatly reduced when a person drinks less or lives smoke free. Quitting smoking, even if you smoked frequently in the past, is a huge step toward prevention. These little daily changes are the easiest way for you to become your own health advocate!

As a reminder, the American Cancer Society recommends colorectal screenings begin at age 45 for men and women who have an average risk for the disease, with rescreening every 10 years (or more frequently depending on your risk).

To help assess your risk, the National Cancer Institute offers a free assessment tool for colorectal cancer.