You or a family member have been diagnosed with colon cancer and you want to know what caused this cancer. Doctors don’t know the exact cause of colon cancer, but they do know that it usually starts as small growths on the inside of the colon called polyps. These polyps can take years to grow large enough to be seen during a routine colonoscopy and then it takes several more years for those polyps to become cancerous.
While the exact cause of colon cancer is unknown, there are several risk factors that can increase your chances of developing this cancer. A risk factor is something that can raise the chances of you developing cancer or another disease. Some risk factors, such as age, cannot be changed while others, such as diet, can be modified and reduce the risk. The risk factors for colon cancer range from age to hereditary diseases.
The first risk factor for colon cancer is the most common. It is your age. Approximately 90% of all colon cancer cases are found in people over the age of 50. Many of these cases have no other risk factors, making this the most important factor in developing this cancer. This is why many doctors suggest getting a colonoscopy as part of your annual exam starting at age 50.
Another risk factor for developing colon cancer is your family’s medical history and any hereditary diseases that may affect the development of colon polyps. If a member of your immediate family (parents, siblings, or children) has had colon cancer, you are more likely to develop it. The risk depends upon how many relatives have had it, how old they were when they were diagnosed and if the history spans multiple generations. This is referred to as a strong family history of colon cancer and may be caused by genetic mutations. These mutations are more common in certain ethnic groups, such as Jews of Eastern European heritage. If this is your case, you may want to have a blood test to check for any genetic mutations.
These genetic changes can cause several conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis (AFAP) and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC). All of these genetic conditions can develop into colon cancer, if left untreated. These conditions are rare and few of the people diagnosed with colon cancer actually have them.
Your medical history also contributes to your risk of developing colon cancer. Your risk is higher if you have had any cancer in the past. Large polyps, even after removal, can increase your chances of developing colon cancer. There are also certain diseases that can increase your risk of colon cancer, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
The final – and easiest to change – risk factors are diet, exercise and habits. A high fat, high calorie and high protein diet has been shown to increase the chances of you developing colon cancer. This type of diet may also contribute to another risk factor, weight. Lack of exercise also contributes to your risk. You can minimize these three risk factors by making some simple changes such as eating more fruits and vegetables and beginning exercise. These two changes will help you lose weight and improve your diet. Smoking and drinking also contribute to colon cancer risk. Some studies have shown that smoking increases your chance of developing colon cancer. Alcoholics are also at an increased risk for colon cancer because of their alcohol consumption. Studies have shown that drinking more than 2 drinks a day increases the risk of colon cancer.