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Bad Habits Leading to Colorectal Cancer

It’s not too late to change them.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Colorectal cancer (CRC) affects the large intestine (colon) and the rectum. CRC kills about 50,000 Americans each year and is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., after lung cancer. CRC is preventable, yet it remains the third most common cancer in men and women. The American Cancer Society's (ACS) estimates for the number of colorectal cancer cases in the United States for 2022 are:

  • 106,180 new cases of colon cancer
  • 44,850 new cases of rectal cancer.

Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancerous. Read on to learn the bad habits that lead to colorectal cancer that you can change—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


You Drink Alcohol Excessively

drinking alcohol

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of CRC, especially cancer of the rectum. The more you drink, the greater your risk. If you choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself to no more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women.


You are Overweight

Doctor measuring obese man waist body fat.

Obesity is linked to an increased risk of CRC, especially in men. Fatty tissues produce hormones that can promote the growth of cancer cells. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy body weight may help lower your risk of developing CRC.


You Eat a Lot of Red And Processed Meats

second street bakery red pepper cheese meat sandwich
Chelsea A./Yelp

Eating large amounts of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, deli meats) increases your risk of CRC. The more meat you eat, the greater your risk. To lower your risk of CRC, limit your intake of red meat to no more than three ounces (about the size of a deck of cards) per day, and avoid processed meats altogether.


You Don't Eat Enough Fruits And Vegetables


A diet that is low in fruits and vegetables may increase your risk of CRC. To lower your risk, focus on eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and kale contain nutrients that may help protect against CRC.


You Don't Exercise Enough

older man stretching in a gym
Shutterstock / Mladen Zivkovic

Exercise can help reduce your risk of CRC by keeping you at a healthy weight, and helping you to avoid obesity. Exercise also helps the body to better process sugar, which may help to prevent insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes – both of which are linked to an increased risk of CRC. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking) on most days of the week.


You Don't Manage Your Type 2 Diabetes

Man taking blood sample with lancet pen indoors

If you have type 2 diabetes, your risk of CRC is increased. This may be because diabetes is linked to obesity and insulin resistance – both of which are risk factors for CRC. Managing your diabetes by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking medication as prescribed can help to lower your risk of developing CRC.


You Don't Manage Your Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

open the bathroom door, go to toilet

If you have IBD (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis), your risk of CRC is increased. IBD is a chronic inflammation of the digestive tract that can damage the lining of the intestine, making it more susceptible to cancer. Managing your IBD with medication and lifestyle changes can help to lower your risk of developing CRC.


You Don't Get Screening For Colonoscopies

Man at doctor's office.

Screening colonoscopies can help to find and remove polyps before they turn into cancer. They can also help to find CRC early when it is most treatable. If you are 50 years of age or older, or if you have a family history of CRC, talk to your doctor about getting a screening colonoscopy.


You Smoke

Young romantic couple drinking coffee, eating traditional French croissants and smoking in a cozy outdoor cafe in Paris, France

Smoking causes CRC by damaging the cells that line the colon and rectum. The risk of CRC is reduced by half in people who quit smoking, even those who have been smoking for many years.

These are the bad habits that lead to colorectal cancer that you can change. Make sure you keep up with screening and if you are at higher risk for CRC talk to your doctor about when to start screening and how often to be screened. And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Gethin Williams MD Ph.D. is the Medical Director of Imaging & Interventional Specialists

Gethin Williams, MD, Ph.D
Gethin Williams, MD, Ph.D. is the Medical Director of Imaging & Interventional Specialists. Read more about Gethin
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