Man with a plate full of raw steak

Colon Cancer Risk Factors: Do You Know Yours?

Highlights

  • Colon cancer risk factors are something everyone should assess this March, which is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness month.
  • Having one or more colorectal cancer risk factors does not guarantee that you will develop the disease.
  • You can reduce or eliminate some risk factors, but there are others that you can’t change. 
  • Do your best to mitigate the risks you can control.
  • Screen for colon cancer regularly.
  • Early-stage colon cancer is treatable and curable. 

Colon cancer risk factors increase your chances of developing the disease. If you have one or more risk factors, you are more likely to get colorectal cancer, but there is no guarantee that you will get cancer. Some people with many risk factors will never develop the disease, while others with no risk factors might. 

Types of Colon Cancer Risk Factors

Some colorectal cancer risks are beyond your control. Others depend on your lifestyle, diet, and other factors that you can manage. There’s not much you can do about your genetic predisposition or age. Understand, however, that having such risk factors does not automatically condemn you to a diagnosis of colorectal cancer. 

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors Beyond Your Control

Our knowledge about colorectal cancer risk factors evolves continuously. As our lifestyles change, so do our risk factors. Our diets evolve. Our jobs may require us to be more sedentary. The increasing popularity of exercise may counteract the lack of physical activity at work for those who participate, etc. 

Age

Age is always a factor in any disease. As we grow older, we lose our ability to fend off disease. Our risk factors weigh heavier, turning age itself into a risk factor.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine and conventional wisdom, people over 50 are more likely to develop colorectal cancer. There is evidence, however, that younger people are becoming more likely to develop the disease as well. 

The new trends may reflect changes in lifestyle and habits or may result from more widespread and advanced colon cancer screening.

Elderly person's hands
Age is a risk factor for most diseases 

Family History of Colorectal Cancer

You can’t choose your family or your genetics. Many people who develop colorectal cancer have family members who have also had the disease. However, according to Cancer.org, most colorectal cancer cases occur in people without a family history of the disease. 

What you should know about this risk factor: 

  • You are at a higher risk if you have a parent or a sibling who had the disease.
  • The risk increases if your relative develops colorectal cancer while young.
  • A family history of colon polyps also increases your risk of colon cancer.
  • The family history risk factor does not depend solely on inherited genes. Because you grew up in the same family, you share environmental risk factors with your relatives.

Ethnic and Racial Background

Your ethnic and racial background determines, to some degree, what genes you inherit. Colorectal cancer affects some ethnicities and races more than others. You’re at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer if you are: 

Inherited Syndromes

Some inheritable conditions and diseases increase your risk of colorectal cancer. These include: 

  • Lynch syndrome. People with this genetic defect may have a colorectal cancer risk as high as 50 percent, depending on the severity of the condition and their age.
  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). This condition favors the formation of polyps in the colon and rectum.
  • Gardner and Turcot syndromes. These two are FAP sub-types and are rare.
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome. This rare condition predisposes sufferers to many types of cancers.
  • MUTYH-associated polyposis. This genetic condition may trigger cancers in younger people. It also facilitates the development of colon polyps. 

Diabetes

Many of the risk factors of diabetes and colorectal cancer coincide. Researchers have determined that diabetes increases your chances of developing colorectal cancer and decreases the odds of recovering from the disease. 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease

If you suffer from IBD (such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis), your bowels are inflamed a lot of the time. Chronic inflammation negatively affects the cells in your gut, making them more likely to become cancerous. 

Colon Cancer Risk Factors You Can Control

Some lifestyle choices can increase your colorectal cancer risk. Others can eliminate or diminish your existing risk factors. 

  • Lack of physical activity. If you’re a couch potato, you’re denying your body the ability to perform as nature intended. You hinder your hormonal processes, lose muscle mass, and accelerate aging. You boost your risk of obesity, diabetes, and colon cancer.
  • Smoking. There’s not a single good thing smoking does to your body. It pollutes your lungs and blood with carcinogens, increasing your chance of developing colon cancer and many other cancers. And it’s never too late to quit; as Australia’s national tobacco campaign points out: “Every cigarette is doing you damage.”
  • Alcohol abuse. You only have to drink moderate amounts of alcohol to boost your colon cancer risk, along with several other cancers. Alcohol affects your cells, hormones, and how your body absorbs harmful chemicals.
  • Obesity. Being overweight increases your colon cancer risks, especially for men but also for women.
  • Your diet. Some foods facilitate the formation of polyps and cancerous cells in your colon. Others can help you maintain a healthy digestive tract from one end to the other. 

What Should You Eat and What Foods Should You Avoid? 

Focus on getting dietary fiber, vitamins D and C, omega-3 fatty acids, and calcium into your digestive system regularly. Here are some foods that can help you accomplish that while providing high-quality nutrients that can reduce your risk of colon cancer. 

  • Fish
  • Starch-free vegetables
  • White meat
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains 

Try to avoid: 

  • Red meat
  • Processed foods
  • Sugary foods and drinks
  • Fatty foods
  • White bread

Colorectal Cancer Screening

If you have one or more risk factors, you should consider getting screened for colorectal cancer, even if you have no symptoms. Those older than 45 should screen for colon cancer regularly, at least once per year.

If detected early enough, colorectal cancer is treatable and curable. 

Doctors use a variety of screening methods to test for colon cancer: 

  • Stool tests. Doctors search for traces of blood or cancerous cells in your stool.
  • Colonoscopy. The doctor inserts a flexible tube with a camera into your rectum. Colonoscopy goes deep enough to search for polyps and traces of cancer in your colon.
  • Sigmoidoscopy. This method works similarly to colonoscopy, but it is less intrusive. On the downside, it can only screen for cancer in the rectum and lower third of the colon.
  • Computer tomography. A CT machine uses X-rays to map the interior of your colon for analysis. 

Large intestine picture

At-home Colorectal Screening Tests

Stool tests are best suited for at-home colorectal cancer screening. Three types of tests are well suited to at-home screening:   

  • The guaiac-based fecal occult blood test requires you to send in a stool specimen for analysis. The test looks for traces of blood in your stool. This test is typically done once per year.
  • The fecal immunochemical test (FIT) looks for traces of blood as well, and it requires you to send in a sample. This test is also repeated once a year.
  • The FIT-DNA test requires a larger sample (a whole bowel movement) and looks for cancerous cells. This test is typically done every three years. Recommendations for this test are that it be done every three years.

eDrugstore Can Help

Spotting a cancerous growth in your colon early can be the difference between life and death. We carry at-home colorectal cancer screening tests that you can use to screen for colorectal cancer regularly. 

Order your kit, provide your sample, and mail it in. We deliver your results in 2-5 days and offer you a free doctor consultation if your results warrant it.

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