Top Ten Ways to Improve Colon Cancer Survival Rates

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Question: Top Ten Ways to Improve Colon Cancer Survival Rates

What are the top ten ways to improve colon cancer survival rates?


When it comes to improving colon cancer survival rates, it's never too late to start. Even after a diagnosis of colon cancer, everyday choices and decisions can affect health. Some lifestyle, diet, and health choices may even reduce the risk of colon cancer recurrence!

Top Ten Ways to Improve Colon Cancer Survival Rates

  1. Get Screened: Screening is the number one way to improve colon cancer survival, because it ensures that more people with colon cancer are diagnosed early, before cancer has spread beyond the colon. When colon cancer is caught early, it is much more likely to be curable. Colon cancer screening increases the number of people for whom colon cancer is caught early when it's most treatable.
  2. Consider Aspirin: Aspirin has received attention for its ability to reduce colon cancer risk. Now colon cancer experts suspect that taking aspirin after a diagnosis of colon cancer can improve survival. Don't start aspirin without first talking to your doctor. Some people cannot tolerate aspirin and for others, aspirin may not mix well with other medications you are taking. Check with your doctor to see if aspirin can help you.
  3. Ask About Vitamin D: Numerous studies suggest that having good vitamin D status (enough of the vitamin in your body) reduces colon cancer risk. The latest research points to the potential importance of vitamin D for colon cancer survivors. Better vitamin D status is linked with better survival after colon cancer diagnosis. New vitamin D recommendations were released in November 2010. With these in mind, ask your doctor to test your vitamin D levels and to advise you on supplements if your levels are low.
  1. Consider Calcium: Calcium is important for more than just bones. A controlled calcium supplement trial found that calcium works together with vitamin D to reduce colon cancer risk. The study found that among people with good vitamin D status (see 3. above), calcium supplements reduced the likelihood of being diagnosed with adenomas, which are growths in the colon that can develop into colon cancer if left untreated. Calcium is considered a safe supplement for most people, but check with your doctor first if you haven't been taking calcium supplements and plan to add them to your routine.
  1. Move More: Exercise for general good health is a no-brainer. What you may not know is that exercise is particularly powerful for reducing colon cancer risk. Many studies support the connection between more exercise (walking counts!) and lower colon cancer risk. The latest research shows that even after diagnosis, exercise can help. Colon cancer survivors who exercise regularly have up to 53% lower risk of colon cancer recurrence compared with colon cancer survivors who do not exercise. Plus, exercise is proven to help cancer patients feel better.
  2. Clean Up Your Diet: Dozens of studies attest to the power of a healthy diet for reducing colon cancer risk. Even after diagnosis, though, eating right provides benefit. One study even found that colon cancer survivors who ate an unhealthy diet were more than three times as likely to have a recurrence than those who followed a healthy diet. In this study, a healthy diet was one centered around fruits, vegetables, poultry, and fish. The unhealthy diet contained mostly meat, fat, refined grains, and sweets.
  3. Trim Down: Losing weight is hard. Anyone who's tried knows this. But for colon cancer survivors, getting to a healthy body weight may be one of the best things you can do to improve your odds of staying cancer-free. Being obese is linked to worse colon cancer survival. If you've tried to slim down and have struggled, don't beat yourself up over this. The good news is that the behaviors that can help you shed weight will keep you healthier even if you don't end up dropping pounds. Basically, it's better to be active and heavy than inactive and heavy, so keep moving and make health (not appearance) your priority.
  1. Keep Appointments: After a cancer diagnosis, you'll be overwhelmed with all of the things you have to do. Despite this, it's very important to keep up with all of your medical appointments. Following your cancer treatment plan as prescribed and working with your doctor when you have symptoms or side effects that concern you is important for your health. Timely follow-up is the key to catching anything that happens during cancer treatment and after that may signal you need additional medical care.
  2. Avoid Tobacco: No matter how you look at it, smoking isn't good for anyone, let alone someone with a history of cancer. That includes colon cancer. Compared with non-smokers, smokers have up to two times the risk of developing adenomas, the precancerous growths in the colon that can develop into colon cancer if left untreated. If you are trying to kick the tobacco habit, keep trying. Even if you don't succeed the first time, you can succeed over the long run. Health experts note that the more times people try, the more likely they are to eventually succeed with quitting smoking. Talk to your doctor about medications or nicotine replacement products that can increase the odds of successfully quitting.
  1. Cope To Suit Your Needs: If you're mad, sad, depressed, or just plain confused after receiving the news that you have colon cancer, you might be encouraged by well-meaning friends and family to "be strong", "have a positive attitude", and "fight your cancer." Guess what? You don't have to! It's OK to have a range of emotions and you don't need to feel bad about it. In fact, a large, long-term study (with 30 years of follow-up) found that personality traits have nothing to do with survival after cancer diagnosis. So if you cope best by screaming, yelling, and asking "Why me?" go right ahead. If you cope best by spending quiet time alone, that's fine too. If you cope best by getting that "fighting spirit" and gathering friends around, then feel good about doing just that.


Grau MV, Baron JA, Sandler RS, Haile RW, Beach ML, Church TR, and Heber D. "Vitamin D, Calcium Supplementation, and Colorectal Adenomas: Results of a Randomized Trial." Journal of the National Cancer Institute 2003 95:1765-1771.

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