You can greatly reduce your risk of colon polyps and colorectal cancer by having regular screenings and by making certain changes in your diet and lifestyle. The following suggestions may help lower your risk of colon polyps and colon cancer:

  • Pay attention to calcium. Calcium can significantly protect against colon polyps and cancers, even if you've had them before. Good food sources of calcium include skim or low-fat milk and other dairy products, broccoli, kale and canned salmon with the bones. Vitamin D, which aids in the absorption of calcium, also appears to help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. You get vitamin D from foods such as vitamin D-fortified milk products, liver, egg yolks and fish. Sunlight also converts a chemical in your skin into a usable form of the vitamin. If you don't drink milk or you avoid the sun, you may want to consider taking both a vitamin D and a calcium supplement.
  • Include plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet. These foods are high in fiber, which may cut your risk of developing colon polyps. Fruits and vegetables also contain antioxidants, which may help prevent cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Watch your fat intake. Certain types of fat can increase your risk of colon cancer. It's important to limit saturated fats from red meat as well as processed meat such as hot dogs, sausage or brats. Limit saturated fat to no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie intake.
  • Limit alcohol consumption. Consuming moderate to heavy amounts of alcohol — more than one drink a day for women and two for men — may increase your risk of colon polyps and cancer. A drink is considered to be 4 to 5 ounces (118 to 148 milliliters) of wine, 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer, or 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof liquor.
  • Don't use tobacco products. Smoking and other forms of tobacco use can increase your risk of colon cancer and a wide range of other diseases. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit that might work for you.
  • Stay physically active and maintain a healthy body weight. Controlling your weight alone can reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. And staying physically active may significantly cut your colon cancer risk. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity five or more days a week. Forty-five minutes or more is even better. If you're overweight, lose weight until you're at a healthy level and maintain it.
  • Talk to your doctor about aspirin. Regular aspirin use may reduce your risk of polyps. But, aspirin use can increase your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. So check with your doctor before starting any aspirin regimen.
  • Talk to your doctor about hormone therapy (HT). If you're a woman past menopause, hormone therapy may reduce your risk of colorectal cancer. But not all effects of HT are positive. Taking HT as a combination therapy — estrogen plus progestin — can increase your risk of breast cancer, dementia, heart disease, stroke and blood clots, so it's not usually used for preventing colon polyps. Discuss your options with your doctor. Together you can decide what's best for you.
  • If you're at high risk, consider your options. If you're at risk of familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) because of a family history of the disease, consider having genetic counseling. And if you've been diagnosed with FAP, start having regular colonoscopy tests in your early teens and discuss your options with your doctor. Your doctor may recommend having surgery to remove your entire colon. Doctors recommend that people at risk of Lynch syndrome begin having regular colonoscopies around age 20. If you have a genetic cancer syndrome, make sure your family members are tested.
Jul. 16, 2011