Colon Cancer Causes and Risk Factors
No one knows the exact cause of colon cancer. It is clear that colon cancer is not contagious - no one can catch this disease from another person. Research has shown people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop colon cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease. Risk factors for colon cancer include:1
Colon cancer is more likely to occur as people get older. More than 90 percent of people with this disease are diagnosed after age 50.
Polyps are growths on the inner wall of the colon. They are common in people over age 50. Most polyps are benign (not cancer), but some polyps (adenomas) can become cancer. Finding and removing polyps may reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Close relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, or children) of a person with a history of colon cancer are somewhat more likely to develop this disease themselves, especially if the relative had the cancer at a young age. If many close relatives have a history of colon cancer, the risk is even greater.
Changes in certain genes increase the risk of colon cancer.Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) is the most common type of inherited (genetic) colon cancer. Most people with an altered HNPCC gene develop colon cancer, and the average age at diagnosis is 44. Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is a rare, inherited condition in which hundreds of polyps form in the colon. It is caused by a change in a specific gene called APC. Unless FAP is treated, it usually leads to colon cancer by age 40. FAP accounts for less than one percent of all colorectal cancer cases. Family members of people with HNPCC or FAP can have genetic testing to check for specific genetic changes.
Personal history of cancer:
A person who has already had colon cancer may develop it a second time. Also, women with a history of cancer of the ovary, uterus, or breast are at a somewhat higher risk of developing colon cancer.
Ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease:
A person who has had a condition that causes inflammation of the colon (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease) for many years is at increased risk of developing colon cancer.
Studies suggest diets high in fat (especially animal fat) and low in calcium, folate, and fiber may increase the risk of colon cancer.
A person who smokes cigarettes may be at increased risk of developing polyps and colon cancer.
Because people who have colon cancer may develop it a second time, it is important to have regular checkups. If you have colon cancer, you also may be concerned that your family members may develop the disease. People who think they may be at risk should talk to their doctor. The doctor may be able to suggest ways to reduce the risk and can plan an appropriate schedule for checkups.
- What You Need To Know About Cancer of the Colon and Rectum; National Cancer Institute. Available from: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/colon-and-rectal/page4
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