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Colon Cancer Prevention & Risk Factors

Prevention and Education

While nothing guarantees that you don't develop cancer, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and stay healthy.

  • Make healthy food choices
    • Eat foods high in fiber - Try to increase the amount of fiber in your diet to between 20 and 30 grams daily. High-fiber foods include whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
    • Limit processed foods, sweets and salt.
    • Avoid foods high in saturated fats
    • Eat 5 of more servings of fruits and vegetables daily.
    • Choose foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
    • Don't overeat. Watch portion size and calories.
    • Limit sweets.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Limit the amount of alcohol - wine, beer or mixed drinks - to less than one drink per day, or avoid it completely.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Engage in regular physical activity, preferably 45 to 60 minutes five days per week.
  • Don't smoke.
  • Get regular check-ups and talk to your doctor about regular cancer screenings.

Risk Factors

Colorectal cancer can develop for a variety of reasons. Talk to your doctor about your risk.

  • Age - Most colorectal cancers are diagnosed in men or women over age 50. Colorectal cancer affects both men and women.
  • Family history - Your risk may increase if you have a parent, sibling or child with colorectal cancer or colon polyps.
  • Personal history - If you've had colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps (benign but may be precursor to colon cancer), your risk increases.
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions - Conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, when the colon is inflamed over a period of time, can increase your risk.
  • Genetics - Inherited genetic syndromes can increase susceptibility to colorectal cancer at a younger age. Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) - a disease that causes development of thousands of polyps in the colon and rectal lining - and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) - also called Lynch syndrome - are two such genetic syndromes that can be detected through genetic testing.
  • Diabetes - Diabetics have an increased risk for developing colorectal cancer.
  • Diet - A diet high in red meats, processed meats or fats - especially from animal sources - can increase your risk.
  • Alcohol consumption -  Heavy use of alcohol may increase your risk.
  • Obesity - People who are obese have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer and an increased risk of dying from it.
  • Sedentary lifestyle - Physical inactivity increases your risk.

Reduced Colorectal Cancer Risk

The latest studies show links between reduced colorectal cancer risk and:

High levels of HDL, or “good,” cholesterol.

An HDL level of 60 mg/dl or higher has been shown to be best for heart health. And a study in the journal Gut found that levels of about 70.4 mg/dl also decreased the risk for colon cancer compared with levels below 45 mg/dl.

Pain-relieving medicines

Taking drugs like aspirin or ibuprofen daily or weekly was linked to lower cancer risk, found a study in The American Journal of Gastroenterology. People with an inherited form of the disease benefited the most.


Men and women who ate yogurt daily were less likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who ate none, report findings in the International Journal of Cancer.

Watching what you eat

Women who say they pay no attention to their diet – eating anything at any time – are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than those who don’t report this behavior.

More Research Needed

Much more research is needed before these methods are widely recommended. Some are already known to be good for your heart, such as increasing good cholesterol and keeping your weight under control.

However, others have side effects. For instance, aspirin or ibuprofen can contribute to ulcers and stomach bleeding and this risk may outweigh the benefits, so talk with your doctor before making changes to your habits.

Screenings Save Lives

In the meantime, scientists do know that at least six of every 10 colon cancer deaths could be prevented if all adults ages 50 and older were screened for the disease. Most men and women should get periodic screening tests, such as a colonoscopy, beginning at age 50. Ask your doctor about the best screening test and schedule for you.

Time For a Colonoscopy?

Use Memorial Hermann's Direct Access program through ScheduleNow to schedule your colonoscopy appointment online.