Healthy Living

Regular Screening May Prevent Colorectal Cancer

Mar. 13, 2015

Updated February 9, 2024

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month but there’s no better time than today to learn about this disease and actions you can take to help prevent it.
mature couple walking outside
Each year, thousands of men and women in the U.S. are diagnosed with colorectal cancer—one of the most commonly diagnosed and deadliest cancers. But there is some good news. Regular screening and a few lifestyle changes may reduce your risk of having colorectal cancer.
Because colon cancer often starts as a colon polyp—a small clump of cells along the colon lining that may develop into cancer—screening for polyps, with a colonoscopy test, is considered an effective way to prevent colorectal cancer. When polyps are found, they can be removed before they become cancerous. 
It usually takes a long time for polyps to develop into cancer, so if you can find polyps early, you avoid a bigger problem down the line.
In general, men and women should begin screening at age 45. As long as the screening comes back normal and no polyps are found, you’ll only have to be screened every 10 years. 
However, if you have an immediate family member—such as a parent or sibling—who has been diagnosed with colon cancer, you may need to get screened before age 45. In this case, talk to your primary care doctor or consider making an appointment with Wilmot Cancer Institute's Hereditary Cancer Screening & Risk Reduction Program
Those who have inflammatory bowel disease may also need more frequent screenings. Talk to your doctor to learn more about screening frequency based on your situation.
In addition to screenings, making a few changes to your lifestyle may reduce your risk for colon cancer. 
  • If you smoke, quit. People who smoke have a higher risk for colon cancer. The Wilmot Cancer Institute Quit Center has a free program to help you! 
  • Exercise regularly. Those who are obese may have an increased risk. 
  • Eat a healthy diet. Diets high in fat and red meat can contribute to colon cancer. Enjoy lean meats, like chicken and fish, regularly and reserve red meat as an occasional treat. Or, if you’re up for it, consider a vegetarian or pescovegetarian (vegetarian plus fish and seafood) diet, which may reduce your risk of colorectal and other cancers, according to research.  
  • Drink less alcohol. Excessive alcohol consumption—more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men—may raise your risk of colorectal cancer or other types of cancer. 
Researchers are also studying the relationship between low vitamin D and colon cancer risk. Maintaining a healthy level of Vitamin D is good for general health.
When it comes down to it, though, the most tried and true prevention method is early screening. While preparing for a colonoscopy isn't fun, it's well worth it if you can find a polyp before it develops or find cancer in the earliest stage, when it is often easier to treat. 
If you need colorectal cancer screening but are uninsured or underinsured, the Cancer Services Program of the Finger Lakes can help. Learn more about this service by calling (585) 224-3070.