It’s well-know that unhealthy lifestyle choices, like smoking and drinking, can lead to an array of diseases. This is reinforced in new research, which found that individuals who reported they exercised more, ate healthier, and didn’t smoke were less likely to have a personal history of colorectal cancer or colon polyps.

This finding comes from an online Cleveland Clinic cancer risk assessment survey that included more than 27,000 global responses. The researchers found that less than 10 percent of the participants reported eating the daily recommended amount of fruit, vegetables, and grains. Additionally, about a quarter of respondents stated they exercised at least 30 minutes, four times a week.

Read: Colon Cancer Symptoms And Risks: Things To Know, From Bleeding To Fatty Foods

“Colon cancer is a preventable disease. These results emphasize the known modifiable factors that can alter the risk,” said Carol A. Burke, a Cleveland Clinic gastroenterologist, in a press release. “Colon cancer has had a significant decline in the U.S. since 1980 when colorectal cancer screening was first introduced, but these results show screening for the disease -- and adherence to a healthy lifestyle -- appear woefully underutilized.”

In general, the U.S Preventive Services Task Force (USPTF) recommends you begin getting screened for colon cancer at age 50, and continue to get regular screenings until you’re 75 years old. People who have an increased risk of colorectal cancer or polyps should get screened earlier. This includes those who have inflammatory bowel disease or a family history of colon cancer.

The researchers' findings revealed only 36 percent of the survey respondents were up to date with the USPTF’s screening guidelines.

Burke and her colleagues developed a free, online tool for individuals to learn more about their personal risk of colon cancer or polyps. Survey respondents self-reported information including their age, gender, ethnicity, height, weight, dietary factors, smoking history, physical activity, personal and family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, and adherence to screening.

After completing the 5-minute survey, participants received a colon cancer risk score and a personalized screening recommendation.

"Our hope by providing this online assessment is that individuals could take it, print out the results with the call to action and take it to their physicians to start the colorectal cancer screening conversation," said Burke.

"In turn, physicians get a better understanding of the demographic of individuals who have decreased participation in colorectal cancer screening: male gender, non-white ethnicity, smoking history, higher BMI, lower intake of plant-based diet, and reduced physical activity level. These results may help them target those patients and encourage them to get screened. Our next research is to determine if our tool enhanced patients' adherence to screening."

Some of the common methods to test for colon cancer and rectal cancer include a stool DNA test, colonoscopy, and a flexible sigmoidoscopy. The pros and cons of each test, and other available test options, are outlined on the American Cancer Society's website.

See also: Colon Cancer Risk Linked To High-Fat Diet: How Eating More Fat Can Increase Intestinal Tumors

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