Healthwise For Women: Colon Cancer

(FN1905, Revised November 2023)

According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer deaths for men and women in the U.S. One in 24 women and one in 22 men will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime.

Lead Author
Lead Author:
Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., Food and Nutrition Specialist
Other Authors

Michelle Steppen, Dietetic Intern (former)

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Quick Quiz

  1. True or false: Eating a diet higher in fiber may lower the risk for colon cancer.
  2. True or false: Fruits, vegetables, beans/legumes and whole grains are good sources of fiber.
  3. True or false: Adults should begin screening for colon cancer at age 45.

All the answers are true.

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer is caused by nonstop and unnecessary cell growth in the colon (also known as the large intestine). This growth can result in cancerous tumors. Early detection is key to survival, and several methods can be used for testing.

  • A colonoscopy is a testing procedure in which a doctor examines the colon with a camera, checking for polyps and cancer cells.
  • A blood stool test (such as FOBT or FIT) is an at-home test that checks for hidden blood in stool. Blood in the stool can be an early sign of colon cancer.

How common is colon cancer?

According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer deaths for men and women in the U.S. One in 24 women and one in 22 men will develop colorectal cancer in their lifetime.

Should I get a colonoscopy?

Risk FactorYesNo
I have irritable bowel disease.oo
I have a family history of colon or prostate cancer.oo
Sometimes I notice blood in my stool.oo
I often experience stomach pain/discomfort.oo
My bowel movements have changed and now I often am constipated.oo
My stool is suddenly loose and watery.oo
I am 45 years old (or older).oo

* Even one “Yes” indicates you could be at risk for colon cancer. Check with your health-care provider about your screening options.

How can I lower my risk?

  • Reduce your intake of foods that are high in saturated fats such as processed meats (hotdogs, beef jerky, ham) and high-fat dairy (butter, whole milk).
  • Eat foods that are high in fiber such as beans and other legumes, vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

Women should aim for 25 grams of fiber in their daily diet. Increase fiber intake slowly to avoid gas and drink plenty of water.

Foods high in fiberGrams of fiber per ½ cup, cooked% Daily Value*
Split peas8.127
Black beans7.525
Baked beans5.017
Whole-wheat spaghetti3.110

* Percent Daily Value is based on a 30-gram daily recommendation


These recipes were selected because many of their ingredients are associated with reducing the risk for cancer.

Key to abbreviations:

n c. = cup

n oz. = ounce

n Tbsp. = tablespoon

n tsp. = teaspoon

n g = gram

n mg = milligram

Bean Enchiladas

Bean Enchiladas
Photo Credit:

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 onion, diced

1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 15-oz. can refried beans

1 c. sour cream, fat-free

¼ c. chopped fresh cilantro

1 jalapeno, seeded and minced

1 c. shredded cheddar cheese, divided

1 tsp. cumin

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 c. enchilada sauce

4 10-inch flour tortillas

Preheat oven to 350 F. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions to skillet and sauté until tender and translucent, about two minutes. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, add beans, sour cream, cilantro, jalapeno, cumin, cooled onions, ½ c. shredded cheddar cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Stuff each tortilla with bean filling and roll. Place each enchilada in a baking dish. Pour enchilada sauce on top of enchiladas. Sprinkle remaining cheese over the enchiladas. Bake in oven for about 20 minutes, until cheese is melted and enchiladas are heated through. Garnish with cilantro.

Makes eight servings. Each (½ enchilada) serving has 260 calories, 11 g fat, 30 g carbohydrate, 3 g fiber and 270 mg sodium.

Slow Cooker Harvest Apple Crisp

Slow Cooker Harvest Apple Crisp
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6 large Gala apples

¾ c. brown sugar (or to taste)

2 tsp. cinnamon, divided

1 tsp. lemon juice

3 c. rolled oats

⅛ tsp. salt

5 Tbsp. butter

After apples have been washed, core, slice and place them into a large bowl. Top the apples with ½ c. brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon and lemon juice. Toss to combine. Place the apple mixture in the bottom of the slow cooker. In the same large bowl, combine oats, remaining brown sugar and cinnamon, and salt. Stir until combined. Cut the butter into the bowl and stir, forming a sandlike texture. The mixture will have small chunks of butter, which is normal. Sprinkle the mixture on top of the apples. Turn the slow cooker on high and cook for two hours with the cover on. After two hours, remove the lid of the slow cooker and continue to cook for another hour. Serve with Greek yogurt or ice cream of your choosing.

Makes 12 servings. Each servings has 230 calories, 6 g fat, 4 g protein, 41 g carbohydrate, 5 g fiber and 25 mg sodium.

Slow Cooker Honey Granola

Slow Cooker Honey Granola
Photo Credit:

4 c. old-fashioned oats, uncooked

6 Tbsp. honey

½ c. flax seeds

1 c. bran cereal

1 c. raisins

¼ c. canola oil

Pour all ingredients into a 6-quart slow cooker and mix well. Put the cover on a little bit askew and cook on low for about three hours, stirring occasionally. Let cool on parchment paper and store in an airtight container for one to two weeks.

Makes 24 servings. Each (¼ cup) serving has 130 calories, 4 g fat, 3 g protein, 23 g carbohydrates, 2 g fiber and 10 mg sodium.

See www.ag.ndsu.edu/healthwiseforwomen for more information about women’s health.