Facing cancer is an unfortunate reality for most of us at some point in our lives, whether directly diagnosed or as caregivers, family members, friends, or coworkers.

While a definitive cure for cancer is yet to be found (though we maintain hope), there are ways to reduce the risk of developing it. In fact, the incidence of certain types of cancer has declined since the 1980s, largely due to very simple lifestyle changes that address related risk factors.

Today, our focus is on colon cancer. In 2024, colorectal cancer ranks as the fourth most common cancer, third if we exclude skin cancers. The encouraging news is that numerous lifestyle adjustments can be made to decrease the likelihood of developing colon cancer.

What is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that develops in the digestive system, specifically the colon or rectum. It typically begins as small, noncancerous growths called polyps that can gradually turn into cancer over time if not detected and removed.

Colon cancer often does not cause symptoms in its early stages, which is why regular screening is crucial for early detection. However, as the cancer progresses, symptoms may include changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation, blood in the stool, abdominal pain or cramping, unexplained weight loss, and fatigue.

Survival rates for colon cancer vary depending on factors such as the stage at diagnosis, a person’s overall health, and the effectiveness of treatment. However, early detection makes a big difference. When detected early, before the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, the five-year survival rate for localized colon cancer is over 90%.

Treatment options for colon cancer typically include surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, along with additional treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and immunotherapy, depending on the stage and specific characteristics of the cancer.

Advanced treatments and advancements in medical technology have significantly improved outcomes for individuals diagnosed with colon cancer, with many patients able to achieve long-term remission and a good quality of life with appropriate medical care and support.

Colorectal Cancer by the Numbers: Key Statistics You Need to Know

Knowing the statistics of colon cancer is an important reminder of the prevalence and impact of this disease. By sharing these numbers, we hope to encourage you to take colorectal cancer seriously and take proactive steps to reduce your risk.

Prevalence and Impact

  • Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the U.S. among men and women combined (the third if you exclude skin cancers.)
  • Each year, about 150,000 Americans are diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
  • More than 50,000 people will die from colorectal cancer this year.
  • The average age of diagnosis among men and women is 66.
  • There are more than 1.5 million colorectal cancer survivors in the U.S.

Trends and Risk Factors

  • In the U.S., about 10% of colorectal cancer cases are diagnosed in people under 50, and this percentage is rising by about one to two percent each year.
  • Colorectal cancer impacts some demographics more than others. Black Americans have the second-highest mortality and incidence rates of colorectal cancer in the U.S. They are 35% more likely to die from colorectal cancer and 15% more likely to develop it than non-Hispanic whites.

Prognosis and Survival

We hope that seeing these numbers encourages you to do what you can to lower your risk of colon cancer and leads you to spread the word that colon can often be prevented with screenings, lifestyle adjustments, and is highly treatable when detected early.

Risk Factors for Colon Cancer

Colon cancer, like many cancers, typically develops from a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. While the exact cause of colon cancer isn’t always clear, several risk factors have been identified.

Some of the known risk factors for colorectal cancer include:


The risk of colon cancer increases with age, with most cases diagnosed in people over 50. However, there has been a concerning trend of rising rates of colon cancer in younger age groups in recent years.

Family History and Genetics

If you have a family history of colon cancer or genetic syndromes, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer), you have an increased risk of developing the disease.

Personal History of Polyps or Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

People who have a history of precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum or who have inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis are at higher risk.

Unhealthy Lifestyle Habits

Certain lifestyle choices can increase the risk of colon cancer, including a diet high in red and processed meats, low fiber intake, lack of physical activity, obesity, smoking, and heavy alcohol consumption.


People with type 2 diabetes may have an increased risk of colon cancer. However, the exact reasons for this association are not fully understood.

Race and Ethnicity

Certain racial and ethnic groups, such as African Americans, have a higher incidence of colon cancer compared to other populations.

Environmental Factors

While not well-established, several studies conclude that exposure to certain environmental factors, such as radiation or certain chemicals, may increase the risk of colon cancer.

15 Lifestyle Changes to Help Prevent Colon Cancer

Unfortunately, cancer of any kind, including colorectal cancer, isn’t completely preventable.

While we continue to rally for a cure, there are many steps individuals can take to significantly reduce their risk of developing the disease.

Here are some key strategies for reducing the risk of colon cancer:

1: Get Regular Colorectal Screenings and Medical Check-Ups

Let’s start with the most important way to prevent colon cancer. Get screened! Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. These screenings can help detect precancerous polyps and early-stage cancers when treatment is most effective.

Screening tests for colorectal cancer, such as colonoscopies, are designed to detect abnormal growths in the colon or rectum, known as polyps. These polyps can be removed during the screening procedure, preventing them from progressing into cancer. Additionally, screening helps identify colorectal cancer at an early stage when treatment options are more successful.

For years, the suggested starting age for colorectal cancer screening was 50. Recent updates in colorectal cancer screening recommendations suggest beginning screenings at an earlier age. In 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force lowered the recommended screening age for adults at average risk from 50 to 45.

Colon cancer screening should begin at age 45, sooner if you have a personal or family history of colon cancer, colorectal polyps, or an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Colorectal cancer screening might also be suggested at an earlier age if you have a genetic syndrome or Lynch syndrome.

If you think you are at increased risk for colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor about when you should begin colorectal cancer screening, which screening test is best for you, and how often you should get tested.

If you are under 45, you can stay ahead of any colon cancer red flags by scheduling regular check-ups with your primary healthcare provider to monitor your overall health and discuss any concerns or changes in your bowel habits.

2: Do Not Smoke

It’s no secret that smoking is detrimental to your health and often the leading risk factor for developing various diseases, including most types of cancer – colorectal cancer included.

The harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the lining of the colon and increase inflammation, creating an environment conducive to cancer development. Furthermore, smoking has been shown to increase the risk of developing precancerous polyps in the colon.

Avoiding smoking is crucial for reducing your risk of colon cancer. Research consistently links smoking to an increased likelihood of developing colon cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, smokers are about 30% to 40% more likely to develop colorectal cancer than non-smokers. By kicking the habit, you significantly reduce this risk.

We understand smoking addiction is challenging to overcome, and seeking support is vital. If you need assistance in quitting smoking, there are plenty of resources available, including counseling, support groups, and nicotine replacement therapies.

3: Limit Alcohol Consumption

Most people enjoy an occasional beer or glass of wine. While having a single drink here and there isn’t proven to increase your risk of colon cancer, excessive alcohol consumption has been closely associated with an increased likelihood of developing colon cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society, people who regularly consume more than three alcoholic drinks per day have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer compared to those who do not drink alcohol or drink in moderation.

Alcohol can increase the production of certain chemicals in the digestive tract that are known to promote the growth of cancer cells. By moderating your alcohol intake or abstaining altogether, you take a proactive step towards protecting your colon health and reducing your risk of developing cancer.

4: Maintain a Healthy Weight

Excess body weight, particularly around the waist, is associated with a long list of health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, all of which can contribute to an increased risk of colon cancer. Additionally, obesity can lead to chronic inflammation and hormonal changes that further elevate the risk of developing colon cancer.

According to the World Cancer Research Fund, being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer by approximately 30% to 60%. A healthy BMI, typically between 18.5 and 24.9, can help reduce the likelihood of developing colon cancer.

5: Exercise Regularly

Daily movement and resistance training offer numerous benefits that can significantly improve your body’s ability to fight off cancerous cells. Regular physical activity not only helps to control weight by burning calories and building muscle but also plays a crucial role in reducing inflammation throughout the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, including colon cancer, so engaging in regular exercise can help mitigate this risk.

Furthermore, exercise helps regulate hormones and improve insulin sensitivity, which are important factors in cancer prevention. Insulin resistance, often associated with obesity and sedentary lifestyles, has been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer. By improving insulin sensitivity through regular exercise, you can lower your risk of developing this disease.

According to the American Cancer Society, adults should aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise each week, along with muscle-strengthening activities two or more days per week. This could include activities such as brisk walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, or strength training exercises.

In addition to reducing your risk of colon cancer, regular exercise offers numerous other health benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, enhanced mood, and reduced stress levels (which we will discuss below, but also lowers your cancer risk.)

6: Eat a Healthy Diet

Maintaining a healthy diet is one of the easiest things you can do to reduce your risk of colon cancer and promote overall health and well-being. A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins provides essential nutrients and antioxidants that help protect against cancer and other diseases.

Fruits and vegetables, in particular, are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, which are crucial in maintaining a healthy digestive system and reducing the risk of colon cancer. Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread, are also essential to a healthy diet for colon cancer prevention. These foods are high in fiber and other nutrients that help regulate blood sugar levels and promote digestive health.

In contrast, a diet high in red and processed meats, sugary foods, and refined carbohydrates has been associated with an increased risk of colon cancer. Red and processed meats contain harmful compounds that can damage the lining of the colon and increase inflammation, while sugary foods and refined carbohydrates can lead to insulin resistance and obesity, both of which are risk factors for colon cancer.

We aren’t saying you should never have pizza, a burger, or french fries. But to reduce your risk of colon cancer, it is important to be mindful of what you eat. Limit your intake of red and processed meats, sugary foods, and refined carbohydrates, and choose more nutrient-rich foods, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.

7: Increase Fiber Intake

When incorporating a healthy, balanced diet, boosting your fiber intake is a simple yet powerful way to support colon health and lower your risk of colon cancer.

Fiber is crucial to digestive health by promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. Additionally, fiber-rich foods help to keep the colon clean and free of harmful substances that could potentially contribute to the development of colon cancer.

Numerous studies have demonstrated a link between high-fiber diets and a reduced risk of colon cancer. According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, consuming a diet high in fiber may decrease the risk of colorectal cancer by as much as 10-20%.

8: Increase Calcium and Vitamin D Intake

Vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants in any form are excellent cancer fighters, but adding in some additional calcium and vitamin D could be especially beneficial. Research has shown that both calcium and vitamin D have protective effects against colon cancer.

Calcium plays a crucial role in regulating cell growth and differentiation in the colon. You can ensure you’re getting enough of this vital mineral by incorporating calcium-rich foods such as dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods into your diet.

Vitamin D is known to influence various cellular processes involved in cancer development and progression. It promotes apoptosis (programmed cell death) in cancer cells, inhibits angiogenesis (the formation of new blood vessels that feed tumors), and modulates the immune system’s response to cancer cells.

Aim for sunlight exposure to stimulate vitamin D synthesis in the skin. If sunlight is limited, consider adding vitamin D-rich foods like fatty fish or supplements to your diet.

9: Limit Processed Foods

Processed foods contain a laundry list of unhealthy additives, preservatives, and artificial ingredients that can have detrimental effects on your body, including an increased risk of cancer.

Added sugars, high-fructose corn syrup, and refined carbohydrates are all common in processed foods and, in excess, can contribute to inflammation, insulin resistance, and obesity, which are known risk factors for colon cancer.

Many processed foods also contain trans fats, artificial flavors, and colors, as well as preservatives like sodium nitrate and sodium benzoate, which have been associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Additionally, processed meats like bacon, sausage, and deli meats sometimes contain harmful compounds such as nitrates and nitrites, which have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer.

Instead of relying on processed foods, focus on incorporating whole, unprocessed foods into your diet, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. These foods are naturally rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support colon health and reduce cancer risk.

10: Stay Hydrated

Water plays a crucial role in various physiological processes in the body that contribute to a healthy colon. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day helps to keep your digestive system functioning optimally, promoting regular bowel movements and preventing constipation.

Constipation can lead to an accumulation of waste material in the colon, potentially increasing the risk of colorectal cancer over time. Furthermore, staying hydrated helps to dilute potential carcinogens and toxins in the digestive tract, reducing their contact time with the colon lining and lowering the risk of cancer development.

Adequate hydration also supports the mucous membranes lining the colon, providing a protective barrier against harmful substances and promoting overall colon health.

If you have a tough time drinking the recommended 8 glasses (64 ounces) of water daily to support hydration and reduce your risk of colorectal cancer, try to consume hydrating foods such as fruits and vegetables like watermelon, cucumber, and oranges. These foods are high in water content and provide essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that support colon health and reduce the risk of cancer.

11: Be Mindful of Cooking Methods

When it comes to reducing your risk of colon cancer, it’s not just about the foods you eat but also how you prepare them. Cooking meats at high temperatures, such as grilling or frying, can lead to the formation of potentially carcinogenic compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).

These compounds have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly colorectal cancer. When meat is cooked at high temperatures, such as on a barbecue or in a frying pan, these harmful compounds can form, posing a threat to your colon health.

Instead of relying solely on high-heat cooking methods, consider gentler alternatives like baking, broiling, or steaming. These methods produce fewer harmful compounds while allowing you to enjoy delicious and nutritious meals, thus contributing to your efforts to protect your colon health and reduce your risk of cancer.

We aren’t saying to never fire up the grill or enjoy something pan-fried. As with most things, it’s all about moderation.

12: Manage Stress

Managing stress can be challenging in today’s fast-paced world, but it’s essential to prioritize our well-being. Chronic stress, which is defined as prolonged or repeated exposure to stressful situations or events, can weaken the immune system and contribute to inflammation, both of which may increase the likelihood of developing colorectal cancer.

Research has shown that individuals who experience high levels of stress over a prolonged period are at a higher risk of developing various health conditions, including cancer. Stress-reduction methods such as meditation, yoga, deep breathing exercises, or spending time in nature can help lower stress levels and mitigate its impact on your health.

13: Get Enough Sleep

In today’s fast-paced society, sleep is often the first thing sacrificed in our busy schedules. Yet, it’s one of the most crucial components of maintaining good health. As a sleep-deprived nation, many prioritize everything above our nightly rest — it’s time to shift our focus. Prioritizing quality sleep is essential for maintaining optimal health and reducing the risk of colorectal cancer.

Adequate sleep is not just about feeling refreshed; it’s about supporting the body’s natural healing processes, immune function, and hormonal balance. Research suggests that those who consistently get less than 7-8 hours of sleep per night may have an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Poor sleep habits, such as irregular sleep schedules or sleep disturbances, have been associated with disruptions in circadian rhythms and alterations in hormone levels, both of which can contribute to cancer development.

Establishing a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensuring a comfortable sleep environment are crucial steps in promoting restorative sleep and lowering your risk of cancer.

14: Limit Exposure to Environmental Toxins

Many of us don’t realize the everyday products we use could be impacting our health, including our risk of colon cancer. From the air we breathe to the lotions we apply and even the cleaning products we use, environmental toxins and pollutants surround us. But taking steps to minimize our exposure is crucial for protecting our health and reducing the risk of colon cancer.

Dangerous toxins are lurking in the air, water, food, and household products that are shown to trigger inflammation and increase the risk of cancer development, including colorectal cancer. Research has linked exposure to chemicals like pesticides, industrial pollutants, and heavy metals to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.

To safeguard your health, consider switching to natural cleaning products, avoiding unnecessary pesticide use, filtering your drinking water, and cutting back on processed and packaged foods with additives and preservatives.

15: Educate Yourself

Last but certainly not least, you must educate yourself about colon cancer and know your risk of developing it. Ask your parents, grandparents, and siblings about their health history and report this information to your doctor. And not just cancer history; other health conditions like diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseases, and genetic syndromes can also increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Additionally, you should learn all you can about colon cancer. By learning about risk factors and knowing where and when to get screenings, you can take proactive steps to mitigate them and lower your overall risk.

You are here reading this blog, which means you are already taking a significant first step in educating yourself about colon cancer. Continue seeking reliable sources of information, ask questions, and don’t hesitate to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.

Can Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) Help Prevent Colon Cancer?

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) work by inhibiting COX enzymes involved in inflammation, a process thought to contribute to colorectal cancer development.

NSAIDs have been studied for their potential to reduce the risk of colon cancer due to their anti-inflammatory properties. However, the data isn’t very conclusive. While some research suggests a link between regular NSAID use and lower colorectal cancer risk, findings are inconsistent.

The USPSTF recommends low-dose aspirin for cardiovascular and colorectal cancer prevention in certain individuals aged 50 to 59 with specific risk factors. However, aspirin solely for colorectal cancer prevention is not advised for average-risk individuals due to potential risks such as gastrointestinal bleeding and cardiovascular events.

Before considering NSAID use for colorectal cancer prevention, you should consult with your healthcare provider to weigh potential benefits against risks based on your health status and risk factors.

Does Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) Reduce Colon Cancer Risk?

Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) has been studied for its potential role in reducing colon cancer risk, particularly in postmenopausal women. However, findings examining the association between HRT use and colon cancer risk have been mixed.

Some observational studies suggest a possible protective effect of HRT against colon cancer. Estrogen, a key component of HRT, may exert anti-inflammatory and anti-proliferative effects on the colon lining, potentially reducing the risk of colorectal cancer development.

In contrast, other research studies have failed to find a significant association between HRT use and colon cancer risk, and some studies have even suggested a slightly increased risk of colon cancer with long-term HRT use.

The decision to use HRT should be carefully considered, weighing potential benefits against risks. HRT has been associated with various side effects and health risks, including an increased risk of breast cancer, blood clots, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. Women should discuss the potential risks and benefits of HRT with their healthcare provider, taking into account individual health history, risk factors, and preferences.

Colorectal Screening and Colon Cancer Treatment in Middle Tennessee

If you’re worried about your colorectal cancer risk or are navigating a recent diagnosis and seeking the best oncology surgeons in Tennessee, The Surgical Clinic in Middle Tennessee has over 40 skilled surgeons across various specialties.

From advanced screening techniques to cutting-edge treatments, our skilled professionals are here to guide you every step of the way. Whether you’re seeking preventive measures or exploring colon cancer treatment options, our comprehensive approach ensures you receive personalized care that prioritizes your well-being.

Take the first step towards optimal colorectal health by locating our nearest facility and contacting us today.