News | Published March 15, 2012 | Written by Aileen S. Galley, ACSW, LSW, administrative director, Cancer Program at Mount Nittany Medical Center, former chair of the Pink Zone Committee

Taking steps to lower your risk of colorectal cancer

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Colorectal cancer - cancer of the colon or rectum - is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both men and women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Play an active role in helping to prevent colorectal cancer by making small changes that can have a huge impact on your life.

To recognize the month long event, start following these five steps to help lower your risk of developing this type of cancer:

  1. Screening - If you are age 50 or older, it's time for a colonoscopy. New research from the National Cancer Institute shows that approximately 50 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could have been prevented if all men and women aged 50 and older were screened routinely. A screening can help detect cancer early, as well as look for polyps and other risk factors of colorectal cancer. Other screening tests include a fecal occult blood test (FOBT), fecal immunohistochemical test (FIT) or sigmoidoscopy. Talk to your physician about which test is best for you.
  2. Diet - Many studies recommend a diet high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, and low in saturated fat.
  3. Physical activity - Studies have shown that regular exercise can reduce your chances of developing colon cancer by about 40 percent. You can do any type of physical activity like walking, running, swimming or cycling. Walking the dog and cleaning the house count - anything that gets you moving is a great start.
  4. Tobacco cessation - If you use tobacco, quit. Smoking can increase your risk of many cancers, including colon. Inhaled or swallowed tobacco smoke carries carcinogens to the colon, and tobacco use also appears to increase the size of polyps. If you need help to quit smoking, speak with your primary physician, or call the PA Quitline at 1.877.724.1090. It's free! Help is only a phone call away.
  5. Alcohol in moderation - If you drink alcohol, limit your consumption to no more than one drink a day for women and two for men.

If you notice any symptoms of colorectal cancer, see your physician immediately. Although colorectal cancer rarely presents symptoms until its later stages, these may include thin and/or bloody stools, cramping and unexplained weight loss.

To learn more about colorectal cancer or Mount Nittany's cancer services, visit