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Colorectal cancer is the 4th most common cancer in Alberta.1  About 1,960 adults were diagnosed in 2012.2

  • Colorectal cancer is slightly more common in men than women.
  • The risk of getting colorectal cancer is low until about age 40. Rates for men rise more quickly than for women after that.
  • Between 1992 and 2012, the rate of new colorectal cancer cases in Alberta stayed about the same. During the same time, the rate of dying from colorectal cancer went down.
  • Better treatments for colorectal cancer played a big role in helping more people survive. Also, more people are being screened through the Alberta Colorectal Cancer Screening Program, so colorectal cancer is being found earlier. This means that treatments can work better so Albertans can have better outcomes.


Experts in Alberta agree that we can prevent about 57 out of 100 cases of colorectal cancer.2 Here’s how:

Not being active enough is linked to about 16% of new cases. To prevent cancer, the World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR) recommend being active3 (e.g., brisk walking) for at least 30 minutes each day and limiting sedentary habits like watching television.

Being overweight is linked to about 12% of new cases. The WCRF/AICR recommend adults stay at a healthy body weight3 and keep their body mass index (BMI) in the normal range. Use our BMI Tool to find the healthy weight range for you.

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Alcohol is linked to up to about 12% of colorectal cancer cases. That’s about 236 cases in Alberta each year.

Eating a lot of red and processed meats is linked to about 12% of new cancer cases.

The WCRF/AICR recommend eating less than 500 g (18 oz.) of red meat a week,3 with little or none of it processed.

Tobacco smoking is linked to about 11% of new cases. Tobacco has cancer-causing toxins (called carcinogens) that damage cells in the colon and rectum. Over time, the damaged cells can turn into cancer. You can lower your risk for colorectal cancer when you quit using tobacco or cut down.

Not getting enough vitamin D is linked to about 9% of new cancer cases.

Vitamin D also helps to keep bones and teeth strong. To strengthen bones, Health Canada4 recommends adults up to age 70 get 600 I U of vitamin D per day and older adults get 800 IU per day. You can get enough vitamin D each day by following Canada’s Food Guide5 and drinking 2 cups of milk or fortified soy milk or orange juice each day. Fatty fish and egg yolks are also good sources of vitamin D. Talk to your health care provider if you do not drink milk or other fortified drinks. Your health care provider can help you figure out whether you need to take a vitamin D supplement.

You can also get vitamin D from the sun, although in Alberta this is harder to do in the fall and winter. Because ultraviolet rays from the sun can cause skin cancer, it can be safer to get your vitamin D through your diet and, if needed, by taking supplements.

Not getting enough calcium is linked to about 7% of new cancer cases.

Health Canada4 recommends adults up to age 70 get 1,000 mg of calcium per day and older adults get 1,200 mg per day. Foods high in calcium include dairy products, dark green vegetables, and fish with soft bones such as canned salmon. Talk to your health care provider if you don’t think you’re getting enough calcium.

Not eating enough fibre is linked to about 6% of new cases. While it doesn’t give a target for how much fibre to eat, the WCRF/AICR Second Expert Report6 does recommend eating foods that are high in fibre. 

More information on colorectal cancer symptoms, diagnosis and treatment at MyHealth Alberta.

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