Colorectal cancer accounts for nearly 10% of all cancer deaths. However, it is preventable if detected early. There are factors that increase a person’s chance of getting this disease. Some of these factors can be changed while others cannot be changed. Knowing the risk factors for colorectal cancer may help one make necessary lifestyle changes or take appropriate health measures to prevent it.
Lifestyle related risk factors
- Being overweight or obese - This increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer. While being overweight or obese raises the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women, men are at a higher risk.
- Physical inactivity - You have a greater chance of developing colorectal cancer if you are physically inactive. Regular exercise or being more active may help lower the risk.
- Dietary factors - Research has found that certain diets may increase your risk of getting colorectal cancer. These include red meats such as beef, pork, lamb, or liver and processed meats such as hot dogs, and some lunch meats. Cooking meats at very high temperatures create chemicals that might raise the risk, such as frying, broiling, or grilling.
- Smoking - Studies show that smokers compared to non-smokers are more likely to develop colorectal cancer.
- Heavy alcohol use - Heavy alcohol use heightens the risk of colorectal cancer. However, limiting alcohol use to 1 drink a day for women no more than 2 drinks a day for men may lower the risk of colorectal cancer and provide some other health benefits.
Risk factors you cannot change
- Age - Colorectal cancer may occur in young adults and teenagers, however, as people get older, the risk increases. More than 90% of people who have been diagnosed with colorectal cancers are older than 50 years.
- Your racial and ethnic background - Of all racial groups in the United States, African Americans have the highest incidence and mortality rates from colorectal cancer. However, the exact reason is not known. Ashkenazi Jews of Eastern European descent have one of the highest colorectal cancer risks of any ethnic group in the world. This is caused by several gene mutations found in the group.
- Type 2 diabetes - People with type 2 diabetes have a high risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Personal history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer - One has a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer if he/she has a personal history of adenomatous polyps (polyps that can become cancerous). Especially, if the polyps were large or there were many of them. If someone developed colorectal cancer in the past, even though it was treated, he/she is at a high risk of developing new cancers in other areas of the colon and rectum.
- Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease - The risk of colorectal cancer is high if one has inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease. Inflammatory bowel disease is a condition that occurs when the colon is inflamed for a long period. After many years, IBD can develop to dysplasia. In dysplasia, the cells in the lining of the colon or rectum look abnormal when viewed under a microscope. The cells can change over time into colorectal cancer. Hence, people with IBD should start frequent colorectal cancer screening.
- A family history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps - People with a family history of colorectal cancer are at a high risk. If more than one first-degree relative has been affected (a parent, sibling, or children) the risk is even higher. The disease can run in the family due to shared environmental factors, inherited genes, or both factors. However, most people with colorectal cancer do not have a family history of the disease.
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