Learn About Colorectal Cancer

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The science is clear: Small choices about what we eat and how much we move — choices each one of us makes every day — could prevent nearly half of the cases of colorectal cancer that occur in the US every year.

This means that if all Americans eat healthier diets, moved more and stayed lean, approximately 63,700 cases of colorectal cancer every year would never happen.



Weight: As you gain body fat, your risk for colorectal cancer increases. Alcohol: Risk for colorectal cancer increases as alcohol intake increases.
Inactivity: Regular physical activity protects against colorectal cancer, but a sedentary lifestyle increases your risk. Age: The older you are, the greater your risk.
Red Meat: Diets high in beef, pork and lamb increase colorectal cancer risk, which is why AICR recommends limiting red meat to 18 ounces (cooked) per week. Processed Meats: Regular intake of even small amounts of cold cuts, bacon, sausage and hot dogs have been shown to increase colorectal cancer risk, which is why AICR recommends avoiding these foods.


Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the US. Nearly 134,490 new cases of colorectal cancer occur annually. Just over half — nearly 70,820 — occur in men, while just over 63,670 occur in women.

Colorectal cancer is the third deadliest cancer in the US, killing almost 49,700 Americans every year.

As obesity rates have increased, the number of colorectal cancer cases has increased as well.


Colorectal pervention could be 50%


To lower your risk for colorectal cancer, make everyday choices that will help you stay at or get to your healthy weight. This is the most important step you can take to help prevent this particular kind of cancer.

Find your "healthy weight" using the AICR Body Mass Index (BMI) calculator.

Moving more and eating well will help you achieve your healthy weight.

Avoiding alcohol and tobacco also help lower your risk.


Aim to get your body up and moving for at least 30 minutes every day. So try anything that:

  • Makes your heart beat faster
  • Makes you breathe more deeply
  • You already enjoy doing


  • AICR's Foods That Fight CancerTM

    AICR’s new web resource keeps you up-to-date about the latest research on foods that belong at the center of your New American Plate.

Get More:
  • Vegetables - Choose non-starchy ones like tomatoes, leafy greens, peppers and carrots; strong evidence links garlic to lower colorectal cancer risk.
  • Fruit - Go for whole fruits more often, whether fresh or frozen. Because it's calorie-dense, limit even 100% fruit juice to 1 cup per day.
  • Whole Grains - Whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa and oatmeal are just a few great choices.
  • Beans - Add pinto, kidney, black, garbanzos and more to soups, salads and stews.
Get Less:
  • Red meat like beef, pork and lamb

    Diets high in these foods raise risk for colorectal cancer, and tend to be calorie-dense as well.

  • Processed meat

    Processed meat, like hot dogs, cold cuts, bacon and sausage increase risk for colorectal cancer.

  • Fast food

    Keep in mind that there are lots of calories and sodium packed into each bite.

A good rule of thumb:

Always fill at least 2/3 of your plate with plant foods, and let animal foods (meat and dairy) take up the rest.


If you do decide to drink, keep to no more than 1 standard drink (12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, 1.5 ounces of liquor) per day.

What the Research Shows


CONVINCING Effect on Risk: Physical activity
Foods containing fiber
Body fatness
Red meat
Processed meat
Alcohol (men)
PROBABLE Effect on Risk: Garlic
Diets high in calcium
Alcohol (women)
Source: Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: a Global Perspective and the 2012 CUP Report on Colorectal Cancer 

What’s the Link?

  • Excess Body Fat Raises Colorectal Cancer Risk
    • Being overweight and obese increases blood levels of insulin and related hormones that can encourage the growth of cancer.
    • Excess fat also creates a pro-inflammatory environment in the body that can contribute to the growth of cancer.
  • Red Meat Raises Colorectal Cancer Risk
    • Red meat contains heme iron, which has been linked to the kind of cellular damage that increases risk.
    • The red meat stimulates the production of carcinogenic N-nitroso compounds in the body.
    • Meat cooked at high temperatures produces heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), both are potent carcinogens.
  • Processed Meat Raises Colorectal Cancer Risk
    • Nitrates are added to many processed meats; they contribute to the production of N-nitroso compounds that can damange the lining of the gut.
    • Many processed meats are high in salt and nitrites, both of which are associated with increased risk.
  • Alcohol Raises Colorectal Cancer Risk
    • The body coverts alcohol into acetylaldehyde, a potent carcinogen.
    • Alcohol may act as a solvent, making it easier for carcinogens to penetrate the cells lining the colon.
    • Alcohol can adversely affect how efficiently the body repairs DNA damage and defends against free radicals.
    • Statistically, heavy drinkers tend to have poor diets, which increases their cancer risk.
  • Physical Activity Lowers Colorectal Cancer Risk -- Both Directly and Indirectly
    • DIRECTLY: Being active helps regulate hormone levels and reduces inflammation.
    • INDIRECTLY: Active people are less likely to be overweight or obese; as noted above, excess body fat raises risk for colorectal cancer -- and six other kinds of cancer as well.
  • Foods Containing Fiber Lower Colorectal Cancer Risk
    • In 2012, the AICR/WCRF CUP panel concluded that the evidence linking foods containing fiber with lower colorectal cancer risk had grown stronger in the years since the 2007 expert report. Evidence that dietary fiber protects against colorectal cancer is now convincing.
    • Besides their fiber, plant foods contain a wide variety of substances that have been linked to lower risk for cancer, including carotenoids, selenium, lycopene and many more.
  • Garlic Lowers Colorectal Cancer Risk
    • Both the AICR/WCRF expert report and the CUP cite several studies in which subjects who ate the most garlic had lower colorectal cancer risk than subjects who ate the least. And in many laboratory studies, garlic and its components (such as allyl sulphur compouns) have show the ability to slow and stop the formation of colon tumors.

About the CUP

The AICR/WCRF Continuous Update Project (CUP) is the world's largest ongoing cancer prevention research project.  It is a living database of the global scientific evidence on diet, physical activity, body weight, and cancer.

For related AICR supported studies visit our research section.

Looking Forward


There are now over 1.1 million colorectal cancer survivors in the US alone, living longer, healthier lives than ever before.

Throughout your treatment, and after its over, you will face many everyday questions. AICR can help.

AICR's CancerResource: Living with Cancer is a handbook on eating and being active both during and after treatment. It was developed with an Advisory Committee of experts.

You can download the handbook or receive a print copy. To see inside pages and purchase a hardcopy, visit our store.

Visit our Healthy or Harmful section for answers to frequently asked questions.

Join the fight against cancer

Join the Fight Against Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the US yet the choices we make every day could prevent half of these cases each year. Your support for AICR's cancer research, survivorship, and education programs will help us get one step closer to preventing colorectal cancer and saving lives.

Your gift will help fund emerging research on colorectal cancer and other cancers and improve the quality of health for colorectal cancer patients and survivors.

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