Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third most common, and second deadliest, type of cancer. CRC includes all cancers of the colon and rectum. The National Cancer Institute estimates that more than 106,000 patients will be diagnosed with CRC in 2009. However, the overall survival rates for cancers of the colon and rectum are increasing, thanks to early detection and improved treatment options.


Yes, it is possible to prevent, or at least lower your risk, for cancer of the colon with simple lifestyle changes. Researchers say that lifestyle improvements reduce your risk for colon cancer by about 26 percent, surpassing the effectiveness of screening as a preventative measure.

The changes really are easy to make: reduce your consumption of red meat, increase your daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, exercise at least 30 minutes for five or more days per week, and limit how much alcohol you drink. Medical experts say there is a definite link between the increase in rates of obesity and the sharp rise in the number of people under 30 diagnosed with colon cancer (historically, a patient's average age at diagnosis was 72). They attribute this change to lifestyle choices.


The American College of Gastroenterology has revised a few of its recommendations for colon cancer screening. Most people should get an initial colonoscopy-the gold standard for colon cancer screening-at 50, unless they have known risk factors. However, African-American men should begin at age 45. African-American men have a higher incidence of cancer of the colon due to an identified genetic mutation.

Furthermore, if a close family member developed colon cancer before 60, you should begin screening at age 40, or when you are 10 years younger than your relative was at diagnosis.

For people who can't, or won't, have a colonoscopy, having a virtual colonoscopy every five years is a screening alternative. Virtual colonoscopies are effective detecting larger polyps, but less effective at detecting smaller ones.


With advances in genetic screening, physicians can better predict how likely you are to have a recurrence of colon cancer. And, as researchers identify a tumor's specific genetic profile, it will help doctors customize treatments based on your individual genetics. Researchers are also testing vaccines for CRC. They're hopeful about one in particular that seems to be effective in preventing recurrence following surgery in stage II patients.