Colon cancer is one of the most common cancers and the third leading cause of cancer deaths. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can reduce your chances of getting colon cancer. Learning about colon cancer risk factors is a good place to start.
Colon cancer is the common term for cancer that starts in the large intestine. You may also hear it called colorectal cancer. Most colon cancers begin as small growths — known as polyps — on the lining of your intestine. These growths may turn into cancer if not removed. Many factors influence how likely you are to grow polyps in your intestine. Some of them are out of your hands, but others you have the ability to control.
1. Hereditary Risks of Colon Cancer
Your family’s health and genes can affect your risk of colon cancer. If you have a family history of colon cancer or colon polyps, you may have a higher risk. Researchers have identified certain genetic mutations that put you at risk, including:
- Lynch syndrome. Also called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), Lynch syndrome was identified 100 years ago. It’s the most common cause of hereditary colon cancer.
- Other inherited syndromes. Familial and MUTYH-associated adenomatous polyposis (FAP and MAP) are syndromes that result in more polyps and a greater risk of cancer.
You can learn whether you have any of these syndromes through genetic testing. Even if you have no identified syndromes, a family history of colon cancer increases your risk.
2. Risks Associated With Your Medical History
If you have an inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you have a higher risk of colorectal cancer. Your risk may also be higher if you’ve had certain cancers, such as ovarian or breast cancer. Your doctor can help you understand your risks.
3. Colon Cancer Risks From Lifestyle
Other risk factors for colon cancer are under your control. These include smoking, alcohol use, a sedentary lifestyle, a poor diet, and excess weight. Follow these guidelines to keep your risk low:
- Don’t smoke tobacco.
- Drink less alcohol, or none at all.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat less red and processed meat.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Eating the right foods is one of the best ways to keep your colon healthy. Fiber, for example, is important for maintaining proper digestion. Changing your diet can also benefit your heart and circulatory system and improve your overall health.
Why You Should Have a Colonoscopy
During a colonoscopy, a doctor screens you for colon cancer but can also remove polyps before they become cancerous. So a colonoscopy is both a screening procedure and a preventative measure. It can be a lifesaver.
The age at which you should have your first screening colonoscopy depends on several factors. If you have no colon cancer risk factors, you should have your first at age 45. If you have a family history of polyps or colon cancer, you may need to begin earlier. In this case, you may also want to seek genetic testing, which requires a simple blood test.
Nevada Surgery & Cancer Care (NVSCC) can help you understand your colon cancer risks and choose your next steps. At NVSCC, you’ll get the guidance and the care you need.