Preventing bowel cancer 

There are some things that increase your risk of bowel cancer that you can't change, such as your family history or your age.

However, there are several ways you can lower your chances of developing the condition.

Diet

Research suggests making changes to your diet can help reduce your risk of bowel cancer.

It may help prevent bowel cancer if you eat:

  • less cured and processed meat, such as bacon, sausages and ham
  • less red meat and more fish
  • more fibre from cereals, beans, fruit and vegetables

The Department of Health advises people who eat more than 90g (cooked weight) of red and processed meat a day to cut down to 70g to help reduce their bowel cancer risk. 

Read more about red meat and bowel cancer risk and eating good food and a healthy diet.

Exercise

There is strong evidence to suggest regular exercise can lower the risk of developing bowel and other cancers.

It is recommended adults exercise for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week.

Read more about health and fitness.

Healthy weight

Being overweight or obese increases your chances of developing bowel cancer, so you should try to maintain a healthy weight if you want to lower your risk.

You can find out if you are a healthy weight by using the BMI calculator.

Changes to your diet and an increase in your physical activity will help keep your weight under control.

Read more about losing weight.

Stop smoking

If you smoke, stopping can reduce your risk of developing bowel and other cancers.

The Smokefree National Helpline can offer advice and encouragement to help you quit smoking. Call 0300 123 1044 or visit the NHS Smokefree website.

Your GP or pharmacist can also provide help, support and advice if you want to give up smoking.

Read more about stopping smoking.

Cut down on alcohol

Drinking alcohol has been linked to an increased risk of developing bowel cancer, so you may be able to reduce your risk by cutting down on the amount of alcohol you drink.

If you drink most weeks, to reduce your risk of harming your health:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
  • spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week 

Read more about alcohol units and get tips on cutting down.

Bowel cancer screening

Although screening cannot stop you getting bowel cancer, it can allow the condition to be detected at an earlier stage, when it is much easier to treat.

As well as making lifestyle changes and keeping an eye out for possible symptoms of bowel cancer, taking part in bowel cancer screening when it is offered can help reduce your chances of dying from the condition.

In England, NHS bowel cancer screening is currently offered to everyone aged 60 to 74 who is registered with a GP.

Read more about bowel cancer screening.

Start the NHS weight loss plan

Develop healthier eating habits and get more active with the 12-week diet and exercise plan

Page last reviewed: 02/09/2014

Next review due: 02/09/2016