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Little Known Risk Factors of Colon Cancer

Jessica Francis

colon cancer facts

You eat a healthy diet, you don’t smoke, and you exercise regularly. It seems like you’ve got a pretty good handle on this colon cancer prevention thing, right? Some risk factors for colon cancer – such as body weight, physical activity and diet – are well within your control, and taking steps to manage them is definitely a move in the right direction. However, it’s only half the equation.

Colon cancer also has certain risk factors that are unavoidable. Factors like age and family history cannot be reversed, yet they can significantly impact your odds of developing colon cancer. Because these factors are beyond your control, it’s important to know what they are so you can discuss earlier screenings with your doctor. Take some time to learn about these little-known colon cancer risk factors:

Inflammatory bowel disease

Individuals with a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, have an increased risk of colorectal cancer. IBD causes inflammation of the colon, which over time can lead to dysplasia. The amount of time you experience IBD influences your overall colon cancer risk. According to Dr. Matilda Hagan, an inflammatory bowel disease specialist at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, "If more than one-third of your colon is involved in ulcerative colitis, it can put you at increased risk [for CRC], and you should get screened more frequently.” Hagan adds that IBD patients who have had colitis for more than 20 years may require annual screenings (Source: U.S. News & World Report).

Height

A study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention found that taller stature is associated with increased cancer risk. Researchers evaluated nearly 21,000 women and discovered that every 4-inch change in height carried a 13 percent increased risk of any cancer. Cancers of the rectum, kidney, thyroid and blood had a 23 to 20 percent increased risk.

Researchers do not yet understand the link between height and cancer, but they suspect that hormones and growth factors that build height could also encourage the growth of cancer cells. Increased height also produces more surface area for cancer cells to grow on organs, which could also be a factor (Source: The New York Times). Women who are 5 feet 8 inches or taller and men who are 5 feet 11 inches or taller should talk to their doctor about their risk factors for colon cancer.

Family cancer syndromes

Most incidences of colon cancer occur due to independent factors, but 5 to 10 percent are a direct result of heredity.

  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is a genetic colon disease which causes numerous adenomatous polyps to develop in the colon, usually by the teen years or early adulthood. This condition is responsible for about 1 percent of all colorectal cancers. Children who have a family history of FAP should be tested for a genetic mutation. At-risk individuals and those with a genetic diagnosis of FAP should begin colonoscopy screening by age 10-12 with repeat screening every 1 to 2 years.
  • Lynch Syndrome, also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, is an inherited disorder caused by a defect in the MLH1 or MSH2 gene. It is responsible for approximately 3 to 5 percent of all colon cancers. Families with a history of Lynch Syndrome have a higher risk of developing colon cancer and are more likely to develop it at a younger age (Source: American Cancer Society). People who have been diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome should begin screening colonoscopies between the ages of 20 and 25 with repeat exams every 1 to 2 years.

Preventing colon cancer requires a two-step approach – changing the factors you can control and seeking preventive care for the ones you cannot. Discuss your risk factors for colon cancer during your next annual physical and ask your doctor about the best time to begin screening. Prevention and early detection are powerful tools that can help keep you cancer-free!

 

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