Colon and Rectal Cancer: The Risks and Prevention


In 2013, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be 102,480 new cases of colon cancer and half will be in women. The number of cases of rectal cancer is expected to be 40,340. Over a lifetime, 1 in 19 men and 1 in 20 women will get colon cancer. The risk is higher if you have a positive family history of colon cancer or inflammatory bowel disease. It’s the second leading cause of death in both. But here is the good news – it’s preventable. That’s right. If you have a colonoscopy beginning at age 50 and regularly after that, the polyps that turn into cancer can be found and removed before colon cancer begins.

Lifestyle Tips to Reduce Colon Cancer Risk


Avoiding tobacco

Eating high fiber grains

Avoiding excess salt and saturated fats

Maintain healthy body weight

Eating fish 1 – 3 times per week

Bright colored fruits and vegetables

Normal vitamin D level

Estrogen therapy*

*the WHI study found less colon cancer in women taking estrogen

Risk Factors for Colon and Rectal Cancer

≥ 60 years

Eat lots of red meats

Family history of this disease

Colorectal polyps

Inflammatory bowel diseases like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s Disease

Personal history of breast cancer

Lack of exercise? Smoking?

High-fat, low-fiber diet?

Like many cancers, the most common symptom is abnormal bleeding.  Any bleeding from the rectum, especially after menopause, should cause you to call your doctor and find out why.  You can also screen for colon and rectal cancer.  Each year after 40 and definitely after age 50, have a rectal exam and have the stool tested for blood.  This simple test is usually done in your doctor’s office and the results given to you during the exam.  After age 50, it is also advisable to have a flexible sigmoidoscopy (view inside the rectum and lower colon) or colonoscopy on a regular basis to look for any cancer or precancerous growths. People with a high risk for colon cancer should be screened more frequently. If it is found before it has spread, 91% of those treated will survive five years or more.


What cancer-screening tests have you had done? What changes can you make in your diet and behavior to lower your cancer risk?


Until next time,

Dr. Mache Seibel, Founder of My Menopause Magazine

Professor, University of Massachusetts Medical School

Founder My Menopause Magazine

(617) 916-1880

PS: Find more information of this type in My Menopause Magazine, available for the iPad in the Apple Newsstand.

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