"While colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States, it is the most preventable major cancer," Dr. Randolph Hecht of the University of California, Los Angeles, says in a statement.
Hecht and colleagues said any persistent symptoms -- blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits, weight loss, narrower-than-usual stools, abdominal pains -- should be reported to a doctor.
Researchers advise those at normal risk to begin having regular colorectal cancer screenings beginning at age 50. However, those with a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, other cancers or inflammatory bowel disease should talk to their doctor about starting screening sooner.
To lower colon cancer risk Hecht suggests:
-- Maintain healthy weight by eating a low-fat diet that includes leafy greens containing folate and other vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and beans that provide between 25 and 30 grams of fiber each day.
-- Drink alcohol in moderation and quit smoking. Alcohol and tobacco in combination is linked to gastrointestinal cancers.
-- Exercise at least 20 minutes three to four days a week.