Doctor holding a "Risk Factor" sign

Who Is at Risk for Colon Cancer?

Highlights  

  • Determining who is at risk for colon cancer is a complex medical undertaking.
  • A colorectal cancer risk factor is anything that increases your chance of developing the disease.
  • Age, race, genetic inheritance, gender, lifestyle, and diet are all potential colorectal cancer risk factors.
  • Frequent and early screening allows doctors to treat the disease effectively.
  • At-home colon cancer screening lets you test for the disease conveniently at home. 

According to the estimates of the American Cancer Society, in 2022, doctors will diagnose 106,180 new cases of colon cancer and 44,850 new cases of rectal cancer. Are you at risk for colon cancer? Read on to find out. 

Who is at Risk for Colon Cancer?

People over 50, those with a family history of colon cancer, and those making poor lifestyle choices are more likely to develop colorectal cancer (CRC). None of this means that if you don’t fall into any of these categories, you’re safe. Health risks are not that straightforward. 

You may be at high risk for colon cancer and never get the disease. You may also be theoretically risk-free and develop colon cancer anyway. 

Colorectal Cancer Risks and Trends

The average lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is around 4.3% if you’re a man and 4% for women. 

Although doctors screen more often for colon cancer, they are discovering fewer and fewer cases. Between 2013 and 2017, the number of newly discovered cases dropped by 1% per year.

However, a worrying trend has seen more cases diagnosed in people under 50. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of newly diagnosed colorectal cancer cases increased by 2% per year in this age group. 

Even so, fewer and fewer people die from colorectal cancer. There may be many reasons behind this encouraging trend. 

  • Doctors screen more people and find and remove polyps before they can become cancerous.
  • Due to more frequent screening, doctors catch cancers earlier and treat them more successfully.
  • Colon cancer treatments are always improving. 

Colon Cancer Risk Factors

Colorectal cancer risk factors

Anything that increases a person’s chance of developing colorectal cancer is a risk factor. Some risk factors we can control, but by adopting healthier diets and lifestyle choices, we can eliminate some.  

Other risk factors are environmental, which we may or may not be able to control, or inherited from our parents. There is not much one can do about a genetic predisposition, but early detection can have a positive effect on the outcome.

Inherited colorectal cancer cases make up about 5-10% of all colon cancers. The remaining 90-95% are what doctors call “sporadic” cases, meaning they develop in patients by chance. 

Inherited Colon Cancer Risk Factors

Doctors can identify around 10% of colorectal cancer cases as having developed from inherited genetic mutations. Genetic mutations refer to malfunctioning genes that fail to fulfill their biological function of repairing DNA. When the body can’t fix damaged DNA, cancer occurs.

It’s difficult to tell apart sporadic and inherited colorectal cancers, but researchers are working on it

Inherited colon cancers can be non-polyposis or polyposis colorectal cancers. 

Non-polyposis inherited colon cancers account for up to 4.2% of all colorectal cancer cases. 

In this category, we have: 

  • Lynch syndrome. This is a genetic condition predisposing sufferers to multiple cancers affecting a wide array of organs.
  • Muir-Torre syndrome. This is a less-common inherited illness that develops due to defective genes.
  • Turcot syndrome type I. This is a rare disorder that is associated with multiple colon polyps and a primary brain tumor. 

Polyposis inherited colorectal cancers account for up to 5% of all colorectal cancer cases. 

Polyposis can take many forms, including:

  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • Juvenile polyposis coli
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome
  • PTEN hamartoma tumor syndrome
  • Cowden syndrome
  • Turcot syndrome type II
  • Gardner syndrome 

Inherited genetic factors account for a relatively small percentage of all colorectal cancer cases. Hereditary factors may, however, be responsible for more CRC cases. This is why doctors recommend more frequent colon cancer screening for the family members of colorectal cancer sufferers. 

Other Risk Factors You Can’t Control

In addition to inheritable genetic factors, we all face risks we can’t control, like age, gender, and race. 

Age

Recent trends notwithstanding, older people are more likely to get colorectal cancer. The majority of cases occur in people older than 50; only 11% of all cases occur in those who are younger.

Doctor comforting older patient
Screen for colon cancer regularly if you are over 50

Race

African American men and women are more likely to get colon cancer than people of other races. In the U.S., African American populations have the highest rates of colorectal cancer.

The difference in colon cancer incidence between African Americans and other races is so significant that the American Journal of Gastroenterology recommended lowering the age at which regular screening should begin for African Americans from 50 to 45. 

Gender

Regardless of race, men are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than women. 

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors You Can Control

Depending on your lifestyle and diet habits, you may or may not expose yourself to additional colon cancer risk factors. 

  • Inactivity and obesity. If you fail to exercise regularly and do a lot of sitting, you run a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. The same is true of obese people.
  • Smoking. The guilty pleasure of savoring that puff of tar-laden smoke has never done anyone any good. If you are a smoker, in addition to all the other health risks of smoking, you also assume a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Alcohol. The relationship between alcohol consumption and colon cancer risk is not straightforward. Research suggests that heavy drinking significantly increases risk of colorectal cancer, but light drinking may actually decrease risk.
  • Diet. What you eat is what you are. If you eat a lot of red meat and processed meats, you increase your colorectal cancer risk. Foods rich in fiber reduce the risk. Sugar may also have some CRC-promoting effects. 

The best answer to the question, “Who is at risk for colon cancer?” would be: We all are, to some degree.

The extent of that risk depends on our genetic makeup, the lifestyle choices we make, and our age, race, and gender. 

At-home Colon Cancer Screening for Early Detection

Screening frequently for colorectal cancer allows doctors to catch the disease in the pre-cancerous or early stages. During these early stages, doctors can treat CRC more effectively, leading to successful outcomes for many patients. 

Screening guidelines call for regular colonoscopies for all adults, and those at risk should have the procedure more often. Between colonoscopies, however, and for those at low risk, at-home colorectal cancer tests let you screen for the disease without going to a doctor. 

eDrugstore Carries At-home Colorectal Cancer Tests

Our pain-free at-home colon cancer screening kits are fast, easy, and convenient — you only need to supply a stool sample. Mail in your specimen according to directions included in the kit and get your results online in two to five days.

If your results come back positive, we will provide a free consultation with a U.S.-licensed medical professional to discuss next steps. 

You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating — early detection saves lives. Order your test kit today.

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