Risk Factors


Though scientists are unsure of exactly what causes colon and colorectal cancer, some risk factors have been identified.



In 2018, the American Cancer Society lowered the recommended screening age from 50 to 45 for men and women at average risk. This action was taken because of the increasing rates of colon cancer in younger adults.

Family history of colon cancer or polyps

An estimated 5 to 10 percent of colon cancers are a direct result of heredity. Having family members with colon cancer puts an individual at higher risk for developing colon cancer. The most common inherited colorectal syndrome is hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, commonly known as Lynch syndrome.


When you smoke, you increase your risk for colon cancer and have an increased risk of dying from the disease. Those who have smoked are 23 percent more likely to die or have the cancer return within three years than nonsmokers. People who smoked at the time of colon cancer diagnosis are 47 percent more likely to have a recurrence of colon cancer or to die from the disease.

Other Risk Factors

  • Polyps (growths inside the colon and rectum) that may become cancerous
  • A high-fat diet
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases involving the colon
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Alcohol
  • Radiation therapy for cancer

It’s important to note that almost 80 percent of people who get colon cancer have no prior family history. Further, most cases have no symptoms. Beginning at age 45, both men and women at average risk for colon cancer should get screened. If you have one or more risk factors, you may need to get screened earlier or more frequently. Click here to find out the various screening methods.

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