Colon cancer affects men and women equally. It is more common among people who are 50 years and older but can rarely occur in teenagers as well. Although some factors can increase the risk of colon cancer, over 75 percent of colon cancer occurs in people with no known risk factors. Risk factors for colon cancer are described below.
Non-modifiable risk factors:
- Hereditary risks:
- A first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with colorectal cancer
- A relative diagnosed with colon cancer who is younger than 50 years or more than one affected relative
- Family history of various inherited syndromes that are associated with gut cancers (Lynch syndrome [previously known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer or HNPCC] and familial adenomatous polyposis [FAP])
- About 20 percent of all people with colorectal cancer have a nearby relative with colorectal cancer
- Personal medical history:
- Personal or family history of certain types of intestinal polyps
- Personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease
- Other cancers such as ovarian, breast, and endometrial cancer
- African Americans, Asians, and Hispanic descent are often diagnosed at an advanced stage of the disease. Jews of Eastern European descent have one of the highest risks of colon cancer of any ethnic group.
- Having type 2 diabetes
- Other factors:
Modifiable risk factors:
A diet high in red meats and processed meats
Moderate to heavy alcohol use
A diet low in fruits and vegetables
Factors with insufficient evidence on colon cancer risk:
Night shift work (studies have suggested that working a night shift regularly might increase the risk of colon cancer)
What are the ways to reduce the risk of colon cancer?
You can reduce the risk of colon cancer in the following ways:
- Get yourself screened: Getting regular screening can detect the tumor at an early stage when it is treatable. Screening regularly for colon cancer after turning 50 years should be included in your health checkup screening. If you have a family history of colon cancer or other risk factors, it is advisable to screen regularly from a young age and get tested more often. Some of the screening tests include:
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT)/Fecal immunochemical test (FIT): This test is performed to find out hidden blood in the stool. It is performed every year.
- Colonoscopy: It is a procedure used to examine the complete length of the colon. It is performed every 10 years.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy: It is a procedure used to examine the lower part of the colon. It is performed every five years.
- Virtual colonoscopy: It is a type of computed tomography (CT) scan that creates a three-dimensional (3-D) image of the colon. It is performed every five years.
- Maintain a healthy weight: Weight gain has been linked to different types of cancer. Hence, it is important to stay fit and be in a healthy weight range.
- Quit smoking: Like obesity, smoking is associated with severe medical conditions and at least 14 different cancers. Therefore, what else reason do you need to quit smoking!
- Be physically active: Always aim for 30 minutes of moderate activities such as brisk walking, cycling, dancing, or gardening.
- Drink only moderately, if at all: Alcohol is known to improve heart health when a person drinks in moderation. However, heavy and harmful drinking is known to increase the risk of colon and other cancers.
- Get enough calcium and vitamin D: Aim for 1,000-1,200 mg of calcium and 1,000 international units (IU) of vitamin per day.
- Limit red meat and processed meat: Limit red meat and processed meat to not more than three servings per week.
- Consider a multivitamin with folate: A standard multivitamin with folate has been proven beneficial to lower the risk of colon cancer.
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