Five steps to prevent bowel cancer

By Dr Tim Lebens, GP at the Platinum Medical Centre

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the world, and it’s estimated that one in 15 men and one in 18 women in the United Kingdom will be diagnosed with bowel cancer at some point in their lifetime. While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent it, there are five simple steps you can take to reduce your risk significantly.

Of those who develop bowel cancer, only about 5 per cent of them will have clear genetic change in their DNA directly linked to a higher risk of developing bowel cancer, yet it’s thought that up to 20 per cent will have a genetic set-up that makes it more likely.

While there are other factors that can influence the risk profile, such as environment or conditions including inflammatory bowel disease, lifestyle habits play a major role.

These are things we can change in order to make an impact, and here’s how you can make a start. 


Five steps to reduce your risk of developing bowel cancer

Step 1: Get screened regularly

Regular screening is one of the most effective ways to prevent colorectal cancer. Screening tests can detect precancerous polyps before they turn into cancer, allowing them to be removed before they become a problem. Screening can be done with a simple stool test or colonoscopy. NHS screening starts at 55 years old, although some providers recommend screening from as early as 45.

Step 2: Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer. To maintain a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and limit your intake of processed and high-fat foods. Additionally, aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week.

Step 3: Reduce red meat in your diet

There is a direct link between a higher risk for bowel cancer and excessive red meat consumption. The NHS recommends that you should consume on average less than 70g of red and processed meat per day, although other studies have already found an increased risk at lower levels. A simple way to reduce your red meat intake is to limit it to once a week.

Step 4: Quit smoking

Smoking is a major risk factor for many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. If you smoke, quitting can significantly reduce your risk of developing the disease.

Step 5: Limit your alcohol consumption

Drinking alcohol in excess can also increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. To reduce this risk, limit your alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

Taking positive steps

Advice is given easily, but we recognise that some of these changes are genuinely difficult to realise. An appointment with your GP is often a good way of starting a conversation to find out what support there is for you, and how you can achieve your health goals.

It’s also important to pay attention to your body. If you experience any symptoms of colorectal cancer, such as changes in your bowel habits, blood in your stool, or abdominal pain, you should see your doctor right away. Remember: early detection is key to successful treatment.

Book an appointment

To book a consultation with The Colorectal & Robotic Surgery Centre, you can phone, email or use our “contact us” form.


Call:  +44 20 3214 3440
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