Preventing + Treating Colorectal Cancer

Find the answers you need

February 26, 2019  

If you or a loved one want to prevent colorectal cancer, are going through treatment, or are trying to stay well after treatment, the following information can help you find what you're looking for.

What is colorectal cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society®, "Colorectal cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum. These cancers can also be named colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they have many features in common."

Key statistics

  • Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.1
  • In the US in 2019, the estimated number of new cases of colon cancer is 101,420, and new cases of rectal cancer is 44,1802
  • The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 22 (4.49%) for men and 1 in 24 (4.15%) for women


There is currently no surefire way to prevent colorectal cancer. However, there are things you can do that might help lower your risk.

Get screened

"Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colorectal cancer" according to the American Cancer Society. With regular screening:

  • Most polyps can be detected and removed before they have a chance to turn into cancer
  • Colorectal cancer can be found early, when it's small and easier to treat

Colorectal cancer screening is recommended for people age 45 or older. 

Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colorectal cancer.

Maintain (or get down to) a healthy body weight

Getting down to or maintaining a healthy body weight and Body Mass Index (BMI) can reduce your risk factor for colorectal cancer - along with heart disease, stroke, and premature death. You can estimate your BMI with this online calculator.

Reduce your calorie intake and exercise (see below) to help reduce your BMI and shed some pounds.


The American Heart Association® recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week – or a combination of the two. Try to spread the activity throughout the week, and add in muscle-strengthening activity.

Dancing, brisk walking, indoor tennis, cycling, and swimming are all healthy choices to get your minutes in.

Enjoy a healthy diet

A healthy diet includes nutrient-rich foods that provide the protein, minerals, and vitamins your body needs to function at its best. Try to include fruits and vegetables into every meal and snack you have each day. Whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils are all additional, essential pieces of the healthy diet puzzle. And of course, don't forget to drink plenty of water daily to stay hydrated.

Stop (or do not start) smoking

Smoking cigarettes is associated with higher risk of death from coronary heart disease, since it increases the effects of high blood pressure and high cholesterol (both of which increase the risk of heart disease).

Bottom line: Don't start smoking if you never have, and find a way to quit smoking if you already do.


There are two types of treatment options for colorectal cancer - local and systemic. Learn more about them below.

Local therapies

  • Treat the tumor without affecting the rest of the body
  • More likely to be useful for earlier stage cancers (smaller cancers that haven't spread)
  • Include surgery for colon cancer, surgery for rectal cancer, ablation and embolization, and radiation

Systemic therapies

  • Can be given orally or intravenously
  • Can reach cancer cells throughout the body
  • Include chemotherapy, targeted therapy drugs, and immunotherapy


Living as a colorectal cancer survivor

The end of treatment can be exciting yet stressful for many people. "Life after colorectal cancer means returning to some familiar things and also making some new choices", according to the American Cancer Society. The following strategies may help alleviate some of the stress:

  1. Get a survivorship care plan from your doctor, including guidelines for monitoring and maintaining your health
  2. Get a schedule of follow-up doctor visits + tests
  3. Keep copies of your medical records in case you see a new doctor(s) who is unfamiliar with your medical history 
  1. Excluding skin cancers
  2. The American Cancer Society’s estimates