Both men and women are equally at risk for colon cancer. The cancer is most common among people aged 50 and older but can occur in patients as young as teenagers. Over 75 percent of colon and rectal cancers happen to people with no known risk factors, which is why regular screening is so important. A personal or family history of colon cancer or colon polyps can increase the risk of developing colon cancer.

Hereditary Risks

People with a parent, sibling, or child with colorectal cancer are two or three times more likely to develop the disease compared to those with no family history. When the relative was diagnosed at a young age or if there is more than one affected relative, the risk increases to three to six times that of the general population. About 20% of all colorectal cancer patients have a close relative who was diagnosed with the disease.

Personal Medical History

  • A personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease and cancers such as ovarian, breast, and endometrial may put you at higher risk for developing colon cancer.
  • People of African American and Hispanic descent are often diagnosed at a later stage of the disease.

Other Risk Factors

  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Diet: Several studies suggest that high consumption of red and/or processed meat increases the risk of both colon and rectal cancer; other studies propose that people with very low fruit and vegetable intake are at higher risk. Consumption of milk and calcium probably decreases the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • The International Agency for Research on Cancer released a study in 2009 that concluded tobacco smoking increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Individuals who have a lifetime average of two to four alcoholic drinks per day have a 23% higher risk of colorectal cancer than those who consume less than one drink per day.

What Can I Do to Reduce My Risk?

Get Screened!  This is the very best way to help prevent colorectal cancer.

The American Cancer Society, in its Current Recommendations for the Prevention of Colorectal Cancer, recommends taking the following actions to prevent colon cancer:

1. Get screened regularly.
2. Maintain a healthy weight.
3. Adopt a physically active lifestyle.
4. Consume a healthy diet with an emphasis on plant sources; specifically:

  • Choose foods and beverages in amounts that help achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat five or more servings of a variety of vegetables and fruits each day.
  • Choose whole grains in preference to processed (refined) grains.
  • Limit your consumption of processed and red meats.

5. If you drink alcoholic beverages, limit consumption.

Here are some other ways to help reduce your risk:

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and whole grains from breads, cereals, nuts and beans.
  • Eat a low-fat diet.
  • Eat foods with folate such as kale, Swiss chard and other dark leafy green vegetables.
  • Take a daily multivitamin that contains 0.4 mg of folic acid.
  • Stop using tobacco products. If you don’t use tobacco products, don’t start.
  • Engage in moderate exercise such as walking, gardening, or climbing steps for at least 20 minutes three to four times a week.