Harvard Health Letter

How to lower your risk for colon cancer

The search for answers circles back to some familiar recommendations.

There are no guarantees, of course, but most of us can lower our chances of getting colon cancer in several ways: don't eat too much red meat, don't get heavy, exercise, and for heaven's sake, don't smoke.

Starting at about age 50, regular screening — colonoscopy is increasingly favored — improves the chances of avoiding colon cancer and also of surviving even if you do get it. Screening works because colon cancer is usually a slow-growing disease that starts with adenomatous polyps, small, protuberant growths inside the colon that may contain precancerous cells. Screening tests are designed to find these polyps so doctors can remove them before they become cancerous.

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