Risk Factors for Colon Cancer

According to the American Cancer Society® (ACS), colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and third leading cause of cancer death in both men and women in the United States. This year, approximately 141,000 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed and 49,000 people will die from the disease.

Almost all colon cancer starts in glands in the lining of the colon and rectum. When doctors talk about colorectal cancer, this is usually what they are talking about. There is no single cause of colon cancer. Nearly all colon cancers begin as noncancerous (benign) polyps, which slowly develop into cancer.

General Risk Factors

You have a higher risk for colon cancer if you:

  • Are older than 60
  • Are African American or eastern European descent
  • Have cancer elsewhere in the body
  • Have colorectal polyps
  • Have inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • Have a family history of colon cancer
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Consuming alcohol

What you eat may play a role in your risk of colon cancer. Colon cancer may be associated with a high-fat, low-fiber diet and red meat. However, some studies have found that the risk does not drop if you switch to a high-fiber diet, so this link is not yet clear.

Discover ways you can reduce your risk »

Hereditary Risk Factors

The following inherited conditions are associated with a significantly increased risk for colon cancer:

  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
    • Attenuated familial adenomatous polyposis (AFAP)
    • Gardner syndrome
  • MYH-associated polyposis (MAP)
  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)
  • Muir-Torre syndrome
  • Turcot syndrome
  • Juvenile polyposis syndrome (JPS)
  • Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS)

If you are concerned that you or a member of your family may have a hereditary condition that may affect your chances of developing colon cancer, talk with your physician about referral to the Scott & White Genetics Clinic for genetic counseling.


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