5 Ways You Can Actually Reduce Your Colorectal Cancer Risk

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Written By Rivera Claudia

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Other potential red flags include having diarrhea, constipation, or narrow poops for more than a few days; feeling like you need to poop but not feeling relieved after you go; seeing blood in the toilet or on the toilet paper you use; seeing blood in your poop (which may look black or even tar-like); unintended weight loss; and feeling very weak and fatigued.

We all get crampy, tired, and have bathroom trouble from time to time—but if you’re dealing with digestive symptoms and they seem to drag on, or they just feel off or new to you, Dr. Cann says it’s “imperative” to speak up and flag them to a doctor. “Please don’t wait to reach out,” he says. Your symptoms might be due to something easy to take care of, like hemorrhoids, but they could also be pointing to something more serious—and if that’s the case, you don’t want to delay treatment.

Related: I Was Diagnosed With Colon Cancer at 32. Here Are the First Symptoms I Had

3. If you smoke or vape, make a plan to quit.

Quitting smoking significantly lowers your risk of at least 12 major types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. As for vaping? It’s not a great alternative, Dr. Firoozi says. Research suggests that certain substances found in the aerosol of e-cigarettes can potentially increase your risk of developing cancer, too.

We know these are tough habits to kick, so if you need some motivation or just a little help getting started, check out our guides to quitting smoking and vaping.

4. Add more nutritious stuff to your plate.

The link between what you eat and drink and the development of colorectal cancer is super murky right now. (For example, some evidence suggests that cutting back on red meats like beef or pork or highly processed meats like hot dogs and sausages might be helpful, but the connection is unclear and the jury’s still out on this.)

That said, loading up on colorful fruits and vegetables and nourishing whole grains is good for you for a whole bunch of reasons, and potentially helping to lower your colorectal cancer risk may be one of them, per the ACS. These foods are filled with protective nutrients, like antioxidants. They’re also great sources of fiber, a type of carb that keeps your bowel movements regular, Dr. Stefanou says; some studies suggest this might support your gut in ways that help stave off disease—but again, the research is mixed and more of it is needed.

Eating “well” might feel overwhelming sometimes, but it doesn’t have to be: Start with the foods you can regularly access (both in terms of where you live and your budget). Then work with what you have: Roast a creative mix of veggies on a sheet pan, snack on fiber-rich foods, swap in multigrain bread when you make a sandwich, or reimagine your morning oatmeal.

5. Find a form of movement you enjoy keeping up with.

A wealth of research has shown that exercise can significantly reduce colorectal cancer risk. One potential reason for that? Anton Bilchik, MD, PhD, surgical oncologist, chief of medicine, and director of the Gastrointestinal and Hepatobiliary Program at Saint John’s Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF that staying physically active helps your body ward off persistent inflammation—a well-established precursor to all sorts of chronic conditions, including cancers. Plus, working out helps to regulate lots of processes that keep your body functioning, like your immune system and digestive system.

Any movement is better than none, but building up to at least 150 minutes of moderately intense activity a week—say, a brisk, 20-minute walk a day—is a sweet spot. And if you’re having trouble getting there, read up on all the motivation you need to get moving here.

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