What causes Colorectal Cancer?
While we do not know the exact cause of most colorectal cancers, there are certain known risk factors. Researchers have found some risk factors that may increase a person's change of getting polyps or colorectal cancer.
Risk factors you cannot change:
- Age: The chances of having colorectal cancer increase after age 50. More than 9 out of 10 people with colorectal cancer are older than 50.
- Having had polyps or colorectal cancer before: Some types of polyps increase the risk of colorectal cancer, especially if they are large or if there are many of them.
- Having a history of bowel disease: Two bowel diseases, called ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease increase the risk of colon cancer. If you have either of these diseases your doctor may want you to have colon screening testing more often.
- Family history of colorectal cancer: If you have close relatives who have had this cancer, your risk might be increased, especially if the family member got the cancer before age 60.
- Race or ethnic background: Some racial and ethnic groups such as African Americans and Jews of Eastern European descent have a higher colorectal cancer risk.
Risk factors linked to things you do:
Several lifestyle-related factors have been linked to colorectal cancer. In fact, the links between diet, weight, and exercise and colorectal cancer risk are some of the strongest for any type of cancer.
- Certain types of diets: A diet high in red and processed meats can increase your risk. Cooking meats at very high heat can create chemicals that might increase cancer risk.
- Lack of exercise: Getting more exercise may help reduce your risk.
- Overweight: Being very overweight increases your risk of having and dying from colorectal cancer.
- Smoking: Most people know that smoking causes lung cancer, but long-time smokers are more likely than non-smokers to die from colorectal cancer.
- Alcohol: Heavy use of alcohol has been linked to colorectal cancer.
- Diabetes: People with type 2 diabetes have an increase chance of getting colorectal cancer.
What can I do?
- Screening tests: Regular screening is one of the best ways to prevent colorectal cancer. Some polyps, or growths, can be found and removed before they have time to turn into cancer. Screening can also help find colorectal cancer early, when it is small and more likely to be cured.
- Diet and exercise: People can lower their risk of getting colorectal cancer by taking charge of the risk factors they can control such as diet and exercise. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and limit intake of high-fat foods. The American Cancer Society recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity 5 or more days a week.
- Avoid too much alcohol may also help lower your risk. The American Cancer Society recommends no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men.
- Weight: Being overweight or obese raises the risk of colon cancer in both men and women, but the link seems to be stronger in men.
Please contact the Kirkland Cancer Center at kirklandcancercenter.org or by calling 1-877-831-4165 with any questions. You may also visit the American Cancer Society website at www.cancer.org.
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