Colon cancer occurs when cells that line the colon or rectum become abnormal. In many cases, these cells die or are attacked by the immune system, but some of the cells can escape and grow out of control. Colon cancer often forms in the mucus-making cells.
The exact cause of colon cancer isn’t known, but certain risk factors are strongly linked to this type of cancer. Some of these risks include diet, smoking, heavy alcohol consumption and a family history of colon cancer.
Colon Cancer Risk Factors You Can’t Control
Some uncontrollable characteristics may increase the risk of developing colon cancer. According to the Cancer Treatment Center of America and the American Cancer Society, six of these risk factors include:
- Age: While it is much more common in people older than 50, colon cancer cases are currently increasing in people younger than 64, and are increasing even faster in people younger than 50.
- Race and ethnicity: Colorectal cancer diagnosis and deaths are highest among non-Hispanic African Americans, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Jewish people of eastern and central European descent (Ashkenazi.)
- History of polyps or cancer: The risk of colon cancer is higher for those who had colorectal polyps, especially large or copious numbers of abnormal-but-noncancerous cells (dysplasia.).
- Certain health conditions: Conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) or type 2 diabetes may increase the risk of colon cancer.
- Certain genetic syndromes: Having certain inherited conditions such as Lynch syndrome or polyposis syndrome raises the risk for colon cancer.
- Family health history: If one or more of a person’s family members have a history of colon cancer or polyps, their risk of developing this type of cancer is higher.
Colon Cancer Lifestyle Factors You Can Control
According to the Cancer Treatment Center of America and the American Cancer Society, five lifestyle factors you can control to decrease your risk for colon cancer include:
- Diet: There is a higher risk for those who eat a high-fat diet and red meat diet. It is best to aim for a balanced diet with a lot of fruits and vegetables.
- Drinking: Heavy alcohol consumption can raise the risk of colon cancer. It is recommended that men limit themselves to two drinks a day and women to one drink a day.
- Weight: There is a higher risk of developing cancer if you are overweight or obese.
- Activity level: People who spend a lot of the day sitting or lying down may be more at risk of developing this type of cancer.
- Smoking: According to an American Cancer Society report, smoking tobacco can cause colorectal cancer. About 12% of colon cases in the U.S are caused by current or former smoking.
For more information on colon cancer, visit Cleveland Clinic’s official website.