Eight ways to reduce your risk of bowel cancer

Bowel cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK and each year there are over 40,000 new cases. Around one in two cases, however, are preventable, meaning that they are caused by lifestyle factors.

Here are eight ways you can reduce your chances of developing bowel cancer.

Eat a healthy diet high in fibre

A healthy diet is made up of:

  • At least five portions of fruit and vegetables per day
  • Carbohydrates that are high in fibre, such as brown bread, brown pasta or whole grain cereal
  • A source of protein, such as eggs, fish, tofu or dairy products
  • A small amount of unsaturated fat, such as olive oil

Eating plenty of fibre helps food move through your digestive system, which reduces the chances of inflammation in your bowel. Inflammation is linked to an increased risk of bowel cancer. 

An average adult should eat at least 30g of fibre each day. Two slices of wholemeal bread contain about 5.5g of fibre and a bowl of porridge has about 4g.

Eat less red and processed meat

There is strong evidence that eating too much red and processed meat increases your chances of developing bowel cancer. The NHS recommends eating no more than 70g per day.

Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb, mutton, veal and venison. Processed meat means meat that has been cured, salted or had preservatives added — this includes sausages, bacon, ham, salami and canned meat.

Keep active and exercise

Being active and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle reduces your chances of developing bowel cancer.

You should try to be active every day and perform at least 150 minutes of exercise at a moderate intensity per week. 

Keep an eye on your weight

About one in 10 cases of bowel cancer in the UK are linked to people being overweight. You can roughly work out what a healthy body weight is for your height using a body mass index (BMI) calculator. Typically, a BMI score of over 25 means that you should try to lose some weight.

Limit alcohol

Drinking alcohol is linked to bowel cancer and six other types of cancer. If you do drink, you should not drink more than 14 units each week. It's also advisable to have two or three drink-free days each week.

Give up smoking

Smoking is a risk factor in a number of serious diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and several cancers. Around seven in every 100 bowel cancer cases in the UK are linked to smoking and your risk increases the more you smoke.

Look into your family history

If you have a close family member (such as a parent, sibling, or child) who has been diagnosed with bowel cancer, your chances of developing it are higher.

The risk further increases if you have a close family member diagnosed with it at a young age (under 45) or if you have more than one close family member diagnosed with it.

If you’re in a higher risk group, get screened

Higher risk groups for bowel cancer include people aged over 65 and people who have a family history of bowel cancer.

Screening for bowel cancer involves either a stool test or scope test, where a flexible tube with a light and a camera on the end is carefully passed through your bowel.

We hope you've found this article useful, however, it cannot be a substitute for a consultation with a specialist

If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.

Make an enquiry

Need help with appointments, quotes or general information?

Enquire online
or Find a specialist near you

View our consultants to find the specialist that's right for you.

Find a specialist

Author Information

Cahoot Care Marketing

Niched in the care sector, Cahoot Care Marketing offers a full range of marketing services for care businesses including: SEO, social media, websites and video marketing, specialising in copywriting and content marketing.

Over the last five years Cahoot Care Marketing has built an experienced team of writers and editors, with broad and deep expertise on a range of care topics. They provide a responsive, efficient and comprehensive service, ensuring content is on brand and in line with relevant medical guidelines.

Their writers and editors include care sector workers, healthcare copywriting specialists and NHS trainers, who thoroughly research all topics using reputable sources including the NHS, NICE, relevant Royal Colleges and medical associations.

The Spire Content Hub project was managed by:

Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager

Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.

Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor

Catriona has an English degree from the University of Southampton and more than 12 years’ experience copy editing across a range of complex topics. She works with a diverse team of writers to create clear and compelling copy to educate and inform.

Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing

Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.