Rectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, there were 45,230 cases of rectal cancer and 45,230 new cases of rectal cancer in 2021 alone.
Although rates have dropped thanks to lifestyle changes, the overall lifetime risk of colorectal (colon and rectal) cancer remains high — at about 1 in 23 (4.3%) for men and 1 in 25 (4.0%) for women.
Being informed on rectal cancer is key to protecting yourself against it. Read on to learn more about the risks of rectal cancer and what you can do to prevent it.
Rectal Cancer Risk Factors
There are two main categories of risk factors for rectal cancer — those you can control and those you can’t.
The risk factors that you can control include:
- Obesity — especially extra weight around the stomach
- Lack of exercise
- Eating too much processed, red, or charred meats
- Drinking too much alcohol
The risk factors you can’t control include:
- Aging — the older you are, the more your rectal cancer risk, especially if you are over 50, but you can still get it in your 20s and 30s, particularly if you have a family history of rectal cancer
- Family history of diseases like familial adenomatous polyposis, Lynch syndrome, and other inherited disorders
- History of inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s colitis and ulcerative colitis
- Family history of cancer — particularly rectal cancer
How To Lower Developing Rectal Cancer Risk
Though developing rectal cancer is sometimes beyond your control, we recommend following these healthy habits to reduce the risk of getting it:
- Get regular exercise. You don’t have to go to the gym all the time or jog every day. Even modest exercise, such as shoveling snow and walking outside for half an hour a day, may reduce your risk of developing rectal cancer.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Keep an eye on your waistline. The more overweight you are, the more likely you are to develop rectal cancer.
- Eat a better diet. Ideally, your diet should have a lot of fruits, fiber, and vegetables and fewer animal products, especially red and processed meats. The American Cancer Society recommends eating a variety of fruits and vegetables daily because they contain many healthy antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Try to eat fruits and vegetables with a lot of colors since these have the most nutrients. You should also choose foods rich in folic acid and calcium, such as legumes, broccoli, and citrus.
Is Rectal Cancer Preventable?
In most cases, rectal cancer is preventable if you exercise regularly and maintain a healthy weight and diet.
In some cases, it might not be avoidable — especially if you have had cancer before, are 50 or older, or have a family history of cancer, inherited disorders, and inflammatory bowel diseases.
If you arrange regular medical checkups and make sure to exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and eat a nutritious diet, you can reduce your chances of getting the condition.