Colon Cancer Risk Factors
Though colon cancer can develop at any age, your medical history, lifestyle choices, and family history all contribute to your colon cancer risk factors.
Cancer of the colon, or large intestine, is the third most common cancer in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is also extremely dangerous: In the U.S., colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths, claiming on average more than 50,000 lives every year.
Colon cancer, however, usually responds well to treatment, and, when detected early, tumors can often be removed with few complications. Regular testing increases your chances of an early diagnosis, as does knowing your personal risk level.
Colon cancer can affect anyone, but certain groups are more likely to develop tumors in their large intestine because they have certain colon cancer risk factors. To keep yourself safe and healthy, it is important to know your colon cancer risk factors.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: How Colon Cancer Starts
Age risks for colon cancer
How do you get colon cancer? Though colon cancer can develop at any age, your risk increases as you get older, especially once you pass age 45. The Colon Cancer Alliance reports that more than 90 percent of cases are in people over age 50. The average age for a diagnosis is 68 for men and 72 for women.
Health risks for colon cancer
Certain factors in your personal medical history or your family history can increase your risk of developing colon cancer.
If you have ever developed precancerous growths (polyps) in your large intestine, you are more likely to have colon tumors as you get older. You also have a higher risk if you or anyone in your immediate family, such as a parent or a sibling, has ever had colon cancer or polyps. The more people in your family who have had growths in their large intestine, the higher your own risk is.
A history of gastrointestinal disorders increases your risk of cancer in the large intestine. If you have ever had inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease, you are more likely to develop colon cancer. People with type 2 diabetes have a higher colon cancer risk.
Genetic conditions that often run in families can put you at risk of colon cancer. These include:
- Familial adenomatous polyposis, a condition in which hundreds of polyps develop in the colon and rectum
- Lynch syndrome, a type of inherited colon cancer that is also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer
- Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, which causes freckles around the mouth and polyps in the digestive tract
Ethnicity colon cancer risk factors
Race and ethnicity can affect colon cancer.
In the United States, African Americans are more likely to develop colon cancer than other racial groups. Worldwide, Jews of Eastern European descent, also known as Ashkenazi Jews, are among the ethnic groups most at risk for colon cancer.
The American Cancer Society notes that the correlation between race, ethnicity, and colon cancer risk is not yet completely understood. It is possible that diet, socioeconomic status, access to preventative care, and inherited genetic conditions might contribute to why some racial and ethnic groups have a higher cancer risk than others.
Lifestyle colon cancer risk factors
While risk factors like age and family medical history are outside of your control, lifestyle choices can increase or decrease your risk of developing cancer in your large intestine.
The colon is part of your digestive system, so what you eat strongly affects its health. The CDC cautions that a diet low in fiber from fruits and vegetables has been linked to higher rates of colon cancer. Eating large amounts of fat and red meat can also put you at higher risk of colon cancer.
Other lifestyle risks include:
- Excessive drinking of alcohol
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of regular physical exercise or activity
What you can do
The CDC recommends that all adults between the ages of 45 and 75 be regularly screened for colon cancer. If you have risk factors other than age, however, you may need to begin screening earlier or be checked more regularly. African Americans, who have an increased risk for colon cancer, should generally begin testing at age 45 as well.
If you know you have risk factors in your medical or family history, it’s important to limit your lifestyle risk factors.
Try to eat a diet full of fruits and vegetables, with small amounts of fat and meat. Cut down on your alcohol consumption, avoid cigarettes and other nicotine products, and get regular exercise to keep your weight down.
Your doctor may have other suggestions for how to limit your chances of colon cancer, so be sure to discuss your health history and risk factors at your next visit.
March 01, 2023
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA