The topic of colon cancer was front and center when actor Chadwick Boseman died of colon cancer in August. He was 43. To lose someone so young to this type of cancer was shocking, yet fitted this trend: While older people are being diagnosed less with this disease, those younger than 55 years old are being diagnosed more, 2% each year between 2007 and 2016. Moreover, alack adults are diagnosed and die from this disease, more than other groups.

The increasing presence of colorectal cancer in the younger age group prompted a strong recommendation in late October from the advisory group, the United States Preventive Services Task Force: Get a colonoscopy at 45 years of age, instead of 50. And if there are risk factors, such as a family history of colorectal cancer, then don’t wait.

Besides these recommendations, a search is ongoing to find better ways to treat colon cancer and prevent it. Some of that research involves statins – a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol in the blood, preventing heart attacks and strokes.

Researchers from NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City examined 52 studies involving over 11 million patients. They found that taking a statin lowered the risk of colorectal cancer by 20% in people without inflammatory bowel disease. The results of the study were presented at the American College of Gastroenterology’s (ACG) 2020 virtual conference.

Statins are widely prescribed and safe, making them a possible alternative to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), said study author Kevin Singh, MD, in materials provided by ACG. NSAIDs can lower the risk of colorectal cancer, but “are associated with significant [side effects] including an increased risk of bleeding,” he said.

Other studies assessing statins’ effect on colorectal cancer have shown mixed results. A study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute in 2015 found that “statin use was not associated with reduced mortality among [colorectal cancer] patients.” Another study published in the journal Medicine earlier this year suggested that statin use may reduce deaths from colorectal cancer but not necessarily in helping to prevent the disease from coming back.

Smoking, obesity, a poor diet, not exercising, and drinking too much alcohol can all increase the risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. But, even a small change in habits can lower the risk. The Mayo Clinic recommends moving more, cutting out smoking and excess alcohol use, and making dietary changes. Studies have proven that eating more fiber can lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Fiber is found in vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

The American Cancer Society also recommends that most people get regular screenings beginning at age 45. People should follow their doctor’s recommended screening schedule, as it will vary depending on age, family history and risk factors.

The take home

Statins may have a future role to play in preventing colorectal cancer, but scientists need more information. For right now, however, research shows that regular screenings and lifestyle changes can lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Talking with your doctor about colorectal screenings, and exploring what changes you can make to lower your risk, might be in order.