There is no clear reason why some people develop bowel cancer while others do not. However, you can reduce your personal risk of developing cancer by these lifestyle choices:
Understand the symptoms
Know what the symptoms of bowel cancer are and go to your GP if you recognise any unexpected changes that have lasted at least 3 weeks.
Tobacco contains many toxins which have a negative effect on your health and significantly increase your risk of cancer. Long-term smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop bowel cancer.
Keep your weight in check
The evidence that being overweight increases the risk of cancer is stronger now than ever before. After not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for cancer prevention.
Cut down on alcohol
Bowel cancer has been linked to a heavy intake of alcohol. The more you cut down, the more you reduce your risk.
Try to do at least half an hour of moderate physical activity at least 5 times a week. Being physically active uses up extra calories and helps you avoid gaining weight. It also helps food to move through your digestive system more quickly.
Make sure you eat plenty of dietary fibre from whole grains, seeds, fruit and vegetables, and drink plenty of water. Fibre helps to move waste quickly through your digestive system. Fruit and vegetables may protect against cancer, because they contain vitamins and minerals which help keep the body healthy and strengthen our immune system. There are more tips on a healthy diet here.
There is strong evidence of a link with bowel cancer from eating red meat (beef, lamb, pork) and processed meats in particular (bacon, ham, salami), so we recommend avoiding these as much as possible. Fish and poultry are good alternatives to red meat, as are soya and quorn.
NHS Choices provides further information on the prevention of bowel cancer.
Last reviewed 25/3/14