What are the risk factors for cancer of the colon? originally appeared on Quora: the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
There are several risk factors for colorectal cancer (colon or rectal cancer). I try to think of these as risk factors that can be modified (changed) and risk factors that cannot be modified.
The most notable risk factor for colon cancer that cannot be modified is family history of colorectal cancer. One of the first questions that I ask patients when estimating colon and rectal cancer risk is, “has anyone else in your family had it?” I ask this because individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer are many times more likely to get colorectal cancer. So, family history risk is the first thing to consider.
In addition to family history, non-modifiable risk factors include age (age over 45 or 50) and male gender (men have higher rates). People that are African-American or that have ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, or an inherited polyp condition called polyposis are also more likely to develop colorectal cancer. All of these risk factors are hard to change, however, and while it is important to know about them, I tend to focus my patient conversations on modifiable risk factors that we can change.
Modifiable risk factors include diet, physical activity, obesity, diabetes, tobacco use, and alcohol use. People who want to minimize colorectal cancer risk should maintain a diet high in fiber and low in processed meats and animal fats (more about this in answer above). In addition, it is important to avoid tobacco and heavy alcohol. Keeping a normal weight, avoiding diabetes, and exercising regularly are also important! While it may be difficult to do all of these things, I encourage my patients to identify one or two lifestyle changes to incorporate to reduce colorectal cancer risk.
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