Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

According to research, people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop colon and rectal (colorectal) cancer. While some factors like diet and lifestyle choices can be controlled, others, such as age and family history, cannot. 

Because of this, it’s important to have a better understanding of the various factors that can increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to make more informed lifestyle and screening choices.

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors That Can Be Controlled:

Certain risk factors that contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer are within your control. These include: 

  • Diet. Eating red meat (beef, pork, lamb, or liver) and processed meats (luncheon meats; hot dogs) in excess can increase your risk for colorectal cancer. Adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain fibers to your diet and limiting how often you eat red or processed meats each week can lower the risk. 
  • Exercise. The more physically active you are, the lower your risk. 
  • Weight. Being overweight or obese, especially when most of the weight is carried in your midsection, can raise the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women.
  • Alcohol use. Heavy alcohol consumption is known to increase the risk of colorectal cancer. The risk can be decreased by limiting alcohol use to 1 to 2 drinks per day.
  • Tobacco use. Smoking is generally associated with lung cancer, but it has been linked to other cancers, including colorectal cancer. 

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors That Cannot Be Controlled:

Other risk factors are entirely out of your control. Risk factors such as these include: 

  • Age. Men and women aged 50 and older are much more likely to be affected by colorectal cancer than young adults.
  • Race/Ethnicity. Colorectal cancer is more common among African American descendants and Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) than people of other races.
  • Family history. Sometimes, cancers “run in the family” due to various factors, including inherited genes, shared environmental factors, or a combination of both. If you have a family history of adenomatous polyps or colorectal cancer in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child), talk with your doctor. He or she may recommend genetic testing or earlier screening.
  • Personal medical history. People with medical conditions such as adenomatous polyps (adenomas) and inflammatory bowel disease (including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) are at an increased risk for colorectal cancer. 
  • Diabetes. Patients with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Additionally, they tend to have poorer outcomes of colorectal cancer treatment. 

Keep in mind that having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely develop colon or rectal cancer. Likewise, not having risk factors does not mean you will not get it. 

Be sure to talk with your doctor about when colorectal cancer screening should begin based on your risk factors. If you are at least 45 years of age and have no known risk factors, consider getting scheduled for a regular colorectal cancer screening. 

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