Tips to reduce bowel cancer risk

While no cancer is completely preventable, studies show that changes in diet and lifestyle could reduce your risk of bowel cancer by up to 75 per cent. And since it’s National Bowel Cancer Awareness Month, we share what the experts say about decreasing your likelihood of developing this type of cancer.

Be physically active

Studies show conclusive evidence that higher levels of physical activity protect against colon cancer but not rectal cancer. And greater benefits are gained with higher frequency and intensity. So, if it’s not already, try to make exercise a part of your everyday life. 

Eat fibre-rich foods

Strong evidence shows that foods containing dietary fibre protect against bowel cancer (10 per cent decreased risk per 10g/day). Dietary fibre is contained in plant foods, so see if you can eat at least five servings (400g) of a variety of non-starchy vegetables (not potatoes) and fruits every day and limit your intake of refined starchy foods. 

Limit red and processed meat

Research shows convincing evidence that bowel cancer risk increases with eating red meat (17 per cent increased risk per 100g/day) and processed meat (18 per cent increased risk per 50g/day). Therefore, experts recommend consuming no more than two serves (less than 500g) of red meat per week, and very little, if any, processed meat. They also suggest avoiding charred or blackened meats, which can damage the cells that line your the bowel. 

Include garlic, milk and calcium

Evidence shows that garlic, milk (nine per cent decreased risk per 200g/day), and calcium

(22 per cent decreased risk for groups with the highest calcium intakes) may also protect you against bowel cancer. See if you can add garlic to your cooking if you don’t already. Try to eat a calcium-rich diet, and, if needed, complement with supplements, under the guidance of a health professional, of course.

Limit the booze

Studies show that consuming 10g of alcohol per day increases the risk of bowel cancer by 10 per cent. Current guidelines recommend drinking no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women, with two alcohol free days a week. A standard drink contains about 9g of alcohol. 

Maintain healthy bodyweight

Studies show convincing evidence that:

  • greater body fatness is a cause of bowel cancer (two per cent increased risk per kg/m2)
  • abdominal fatness is a cause of bowel cancer (17 per cent increased risk with increased waist-to-hip ratio).

Try to aim for a BMI of 18.5–24.99 and a waist circumference of less than 80cm for women and less than 94cm for men. 

Avoid smoking

There is now enough evidence to show cigarette smoking is a cause of bowel cancer, with a 38 per cent increased risk for an increase of 40 cigarettes per day. 

To find out more about bowel cancer and health, visit

Written by YourLifeChoices Writers

YourLifeChoices' team of writers specialise in content that helps Australian over-50s make better decisions about wealth, health, travel and life. It's all in the name. For 22 years, we've been helping older Australians live their best lives.

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