Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States among both men and women. But there are genetic markers for colon cancer that can indicate when someone is at high risk.
Knowing the symptoms, your own risk factors, and when to screen can be crucial to detecting the illness early and getting effective treatment.
Is colon cancer genetic?
All cancer is caused by changes to the DNA in our cells’ genes. These genes control how our cells function. Hereditary genetic markers can indicate when a person is more than usually likely to get colon cancer.
There are also acquired genetic markers — new mutations — that can make you more at risk for certain types of cancer, including colon cancer. Colon cancer and genetics are linked through both inherited and acquired genes. But you can use these markers to change or limit your likelihood of getting cancer.
Inherited gene mutations
There are a few gene mutations that are inherited and that you can’t change. But just because you have these does not mean that you will eventually get cancer. These genes alter the odds but don’t guarantee the outcome.
The APC gene controls the suppression of tumors. When changes in this gene are inherited, there is no “brake” to stop tumors from growing. Cancer-related polyps can easily grow in the colon, unstopped.
Another gene error causes changes in the part of the DNA that could have repaired damaged cells. Changes in the STK11 alter a gene that also suppresses tumors. Finally, there is a gene that fixes mistakes when the cells divide. If that gene doesn’t work correctly, these cells can go on dividing unchecked and cause cancer.
All these gene mutations are inherited and can lead to colon cancer. But at the same time, there are genetic factors that can be created by your lifestyle and can be changed.
Several factors can make you more prone to getting colon cancer. Your weight, level of physical activity, and diet can all play a part in how at-risk you are of developing colon cancer. Not smoking and ensuring that your body has sufficient vitamins can lower your risk. Changing your lifestyle can ensure that you are a lot safer.
Other risk factors can’t be changed. Family history of colon cancer, personal history of polyps or inflammatory bowel disease, and having inherited genetic issues can heighten your risks. But you can improve your chances and any genetic tendencies by getting checked often and finding cancers early.
Symptoms and screening
Even without any genetic indicators or heightened risk, a person can still develop colon cancer. Screening is essential.
Visit your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Change in bowel movement
- Blood in stool
- Cramps or unexplained abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
Even without any symptoms, you need to be screened from 45 onwards. Those with increased risk will need to start earlier. Speaking to your doctor can determine the best test for you and how often you need screening.
Finding cancer early is the best defense against colon cancer. Do not neglect your screenings.