Since March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month, it is a good time to learn about colon cancer risk factors. Because colon cancer affects one out of every 20 Americans, you should consider whether you are at elevated risk for the disease.
Nine out of ten cases of colon cancer are diagnosed in individuals over the age of 50. For this reason, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force has set the age for baseline colon screening at age 50 for Americans who are at average risk for colon cancer.
If you are 50 or older and have not had a colonoscopy, you are overdue for your screening. Talk to your primary care physician, or use our Find a Center tool to locate a board-certified gastroenterologist and schedule an appointment.
Among U.S. racial and ethnic groups, African Americans have an elevated risk of colon cancer. Therefore, the American College of Gastroenterology and the American Society of Gastrointestinal Endoscopists recommend that African Americans who are asymptomatic and of average risk should begin screening at age 45.
Having a family history of colon cancer and/or polyps could affect colon screening age.
If you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child) who was diagnosed with colon cancer before the age of 60 or two first-degree relatives diagnosed at any age, you should have your first colon screening at age 40, or 10 years before the earliest diagnosis in the family.
There are also two genetic conditions called Lynch Syndrome and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) which significantly increase the risk for colon cancer and require early screening, so be sure to ask whether those genetic conditions run in your family.
You may have never thought to ask your relatives about family medical history. You might hear that heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or stroke runs in your family, but make sure to ask specifically about colon cancer and colon polyps. Recent research shows that colon cancer and family history have a stronger connection than previously thought, so find out all you can about your family health history.
Chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity and inflammatory bowel disease can increase your risk for colon cancer. If you have any of these conditions, it is essential to see your primary care physician regularly to monitor your health. You may need to be screened for colon cancer early.
Smoking, drinking alcohol, and eating a high-fat/low-fiber diet can put you at increased risk for colon cancer. These habits can be changed with assistance from your doctor, so make an appointment to get help to quit smoking, limit your alcohol intake and improve your diet.
Colon cancer prevention begins with awareness of your own personal risk. Contrary to popular belief, colon cancer can affect anyone at any age. Today, we are seeing more cases of young-onset colon cancer because young Americans are unaware of what puts them at risk for this preventable disease.
Schedule a colonoscopy for yourself or a loved one during Colon Cancer Awareness Month. You can also be a caregiver by providing transportation to a friend or family member who is having a colonoscopy. Let’s take a stand together against colon cancer!