A risk factor is any characteristic or behavior that could increase your chances of getting a particular disease. Having a risk factor for any type of cancer does not necessarily mean you will get that cancer. However, some risk factors can be changed, and changing or stopping these behaviors will decrease your chances of getting cancer.
Since the medical community is unsure of what exactly causes colorectal cancer, it can be difficult to determine if, why, or how you are at risk for colorectal cancer. That is why it is important to be educated on the risk factors and to try to stay in good health. When looking at these risk factors, we will break them into two categories: ones that can be changed, and ones that cannot.
Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors You Can Change
Being Physically Inactive: If you are not physically active, then you have a greater chance of developing colorectal cancer as well as other diseases. It is always a good idea to exercise regularly to stay in good health.
Being Overweight: Being overweight or obese, especially having a larger waistline, raises the risk of developing colon cancer in both men and women. Losing weight through diet and exercise can help drive this risk down.
Diet: High fiber diets have been linked with a lower risk for colorectal cancer. High fiber diets include lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Diets that are high in red meats and processed meats have also been shown to raise the risk of developing colon cancer. The way the meat is prepared can also affect risk. According to Dr. Francisco Itriago MD, “Some studies have shown that red meat cooked over an open flame can contribute to the development of polyps that can then possibly turn cancerous.”
Smoking: Smoking raises your risk for many types of cancers, and colorectal cancer is among them. Quitting smoking is difficult, but it could save your life.
Heavy Alcohol Consumption: Development of colorectal cancer has been linked to heavy alcohol use as well. Limiting yourself to no more than two drinks per day can decrease your risk.
Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors You Cannot Change
Personal History of Polyps: If you have a history of adenomatous polyps then your risk of developing colorectal cancer is higher. This is especially true if the polyps are large, have dysplasia or if there are many of them. Also, if you have had colorectal cancer in the past, even if it was completely removed, then your risk of developing it again is higher.
History of Inflammatory Bowel Disease: Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. People with these conditions have suffered from an inflamed colon for long periods of time, and they can develop dysplasia in the colon. If you have one of these conditions then your doctor will likely screen you for colorectal cancer at a younger age and more frequently.
Family History: If someone in your immediate family has had a history of colorectal cancer of polyps, then your risk is higher. Most people who develop colorectal cancer do not have a family history of it, but one in five patients does have a family history.
Inherited Syndromes: 5-10% of patients who develop colorectal cancer have inherited gene changes that can cause family cancer syndromes which lead to them getting the disease. Some of these inherited syndromes include Familial adenomatous polyposis, Lynch syndrome, Turcot syndrome, Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, and MUTYH-associated polyposis.
Type 2 Diabetes: People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Both of these conditions share some of the same risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity. If you have type 2 diabetes talk with your physician about being screened for colorectal cancer.
Other Information on Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors
These risk factors do not necessarily mean you have colorectal cancer. Even so, if you have any of these risk factors, it is worth discussing with a colorectal specialist. He/she can help you determine what the next step ought to be. Colorectal surgery is a common treatment method.
Colon cancer is the third most common type of cancer, and it is responsible for nearly 50,000 deaths per year. However, 60% of colon cancer deaths could be prevented with regular screenings and early detection. For this reason, it is important to know your body and keep in contact with a colorectal specialist.