Rectal Cancer Causes & Risk Factors

No one knows the exact cause of rectal cancer. It is clear that it 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 rectal cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of developing a disease. Risk factors for rectal cancer include:1


Rectal cancer is more likely to occur as people get older. More than 90 percent of people with this disease are diagnosed after age 50.

Rectal polyps:

Polyps are growths on the inner wall of the rectum. They are common in people over age 50. Most polyps are not cancerous, but some polyps (adenomas) can become cancer. Finding and removing polyps may reduce the risk of rectal cancer.

Family history:

Close relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, or children) of a person with a history of rectal cancer are somewhat more likely to develop this disease, especially if the relative had the cancer at a young age. If many close relatives have a history of rectal cancer, the risk is even greater.

Genetic alterations:

Changes in certain genes increase the risk of rectal cancer. These types of rectal cancers are rare but cause the disease to develop at a somewhat younger age. Genetic testing can check for specific genetic changes.

Personal history of cancer:

A person who has already had rectal 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 rectal 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 rectal cancer.


Studies suggest diets high in fat (especially animal fat) and low in calcium, folate, and fiber may increase the risk of rectal cancer.

Cigarette smoking:

A person who smokes cigarettes may be at increased risk of developing polyps and rectal cancer.

Because people who have rectal cancer may develop it a second time, it is important to have regular checkups. If you have rectal 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 a schedule for checkups.

All surgery presents risk, including da Vinci Surgery. Results, including cosmetic results, may vary. Serious complications may occur in any surgery, up to and including death. Examples of serious and life-threatening complications, which may require hospitalization, include injury to tissues or organs; bleeding; infection, and internal scarring that can cause long-lasting dysfunction or pain. Temporary pain or nerve injury has been linked to the inverted position often used during abdominal and pelvic surgery. Patients should understand that risks of surgery include potential for human error and potential for equipment failure. Risk specific to minimally invasive surgery may include: a longer operative time; the need to convert the procedure to an open approach; or the need for additional or larger incision sites. Converting the procedure to open could mean a longer operative time, long time under anesthesia, and could lead to increased complications. Research suggests that there may be an increased risk of incision-site hernia with single-incision surgery. Patients who bleed easily, have abnormal blood clotting, are pregnant or morbidly obese are typically not candidates for minimally invasive surgery, including da Vinci Surgery. Other surgical approaches are available. Patients should review the risks associated with all surgical approaches. They should talk to their doctors about their surgical experience and to decide if da Vinci is right for them. For more complete information on surgical risks, safety and indications for use, please refer to

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