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4 Ways to Slash Your Risk of Colon Cancer

Having regular screenings is essential for preventing colon cancer, but the choices you make every day can also lower your risk.

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When it comes to preventing colon cancer, screenings are a must. That’s because during a screening test, your doctor can detect and remove precancerous polyps many years before they would have turned into cancer. But scheduling regular screenings isn’t the only decision you can make to help lower your risk of colon cancer. There’s plenty of evidence that the lifestyle choices you make every day—including what you eat and how active you are—can also play an important role. Here are 4 things you can start doing now to help slash your risk of colon cancer.

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1. Eat More Veggies, Less Red Meat

For a cancer that involves your digestive tract, it makes sense that what you eat can impact your risk. And there’s plenty of evidence that a diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables (as well as whole grains) can lower risk of colon cancer. Studies suggest that the high-fiber content of these plant-based foods is responsible for the protective effect. However, researchers say it may also be due to certain cancer-fighting phytochemicals in produce and whole grains. Next time you're in the grocery store, aim to cut back on the amount of red meat and processed meats (like bacon) you have every week. Many studies have found a link between these meats and a higher risk of colon cancer.

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2. Get Your Heart Rate Up

Here’s yet another good reason to strap on those sneakers and go for a walk today: Several studies suggest that increasing your level of activity can lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Doing some kind of moderate level activity for 30 to 60 minutes every day has been linked to lower risk, but you can cut your risk even more drastically if you engage in something more vigorous (think challenging route with lots of hills rather than your usual brisk walk). Why is exercise protective? One theory is that being physically active speeds up the transit of food through your system which decreases the time that your colon is exposed to potential carcinogens.

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3. Lose Excess Pounds

Carrying extra pounds is a risk factor for several types of cancer, but the evidence is particularly strong when it comes to obesity and a higher risk of colon cancer. Numerous studies have shown that being overweight or obese raises the risk of being diagnosed with colon cancer. What’s more, people who are obese are more than twice as likely to die from colorectal cancer as those who are at a healthy weight. If you do lose weight, you’ll likely be lowering your risk in other ways, too, since the best ways to drop excess pounds—eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise—are also known to lower your risk of colon cancer.

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4. Get Enough Calcium and Vitamin D

You know calcium is important for strong bones, but did you know it can also help lower your risk of colon cancer? Several studies suggest that getting enough calcium (from either foods or supplements) can help reduce your risk of developing precancerous polyps. There’s also convincing evidence that vitamin D may help lower cancer risk, and a study by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston suggests a possible reason for the link. The researchers believe that vitamin D helps prevent colon cancer by helping your body immune system’s prevent the growth of cancerous cells.

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