While colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, when it is detected early, it is treatable and beatable. The lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is roughly 1 in 20, but this may vary depending upon family history and individual risk factors for the disease. According to the American Cancer Society, colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer, and it is the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States, claiming 50,830 lives a year.
There is ongoing research on what exactly causes colon cancer, but patients with certain risk factors are at greater risk of developing the disease. These risk factors include:
Age : Most colon cancer cases are diagnosed in patients after age 50.
Colon polyps: These growths on the inner wall of the colon are more common in those over age 50. While they are most commonly benign, some types evolve into cancer. Therefore, detecting these polyps and removing them early on can help reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Family history of colon cancer: Colon cancer tents to run in families, and those with close relatives – parents, brothers, sisters or children—who have this disease may be more likely to develop the disease themselves.
Personal history: If you have already been diagnosed with colon cancer, it is more likely that you may develop it again. In addition, women who have been diagnosed with ovarian, uterine or breast cancer may have a higher risk of developing colon cancer.
Crohn’s Disease: Those who have Crohn’s disease—a disorder that causes colon inflammation—may be at greater risk of developing colon cancer.
Diet and Lifestyle: While more research needs to be done, studies suggest that diets high in red meat and fat, yet low in calcium and fiber, may place someone at higher risk of developing colon cancer.
Inactivity: Daily exercise can reduce the risk of colon cancer by almost 50 percent.
Smoking: Those who smoke may also have an increased risk of developing polyps, which can develop into colon cancer.
If you are age 50 without risk factors for colon cancer, you should begin colon cancer screening now. If you have high risk for colon cancer, screening should start at age 40, or 10 years younger than the age at which the youngest affected primary relative was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. You should discuss with your doctor the ways in which you may be screened for colon cancer.