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Risk factors for Colon Cancer

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get colon cancer and not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer, it simply means that you are at greater risk than normal to develop the cancer.

Risk factors for colorectal cancer include the following:

  • Having a family history of colon cancer in a first degree relative (parent, sibling, or child).
  • Having a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (Ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease)
  • Having a personal history of previous colon, rectal, or ovarian cancer.
  • Having inherited changes in certain genes associated with familial colon cancer and polyposis syndromes.
    • Lynch syndrome
    • Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP)
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • More than 3 drinks of alcohol per day.

Older age is also a risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older.1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12

Next: Diagnosis & Tests for Colon Cancer



1 Lynch HT, de la Chappelle A. Hereditary colorectal cancer. New England Journal of Medicine. 2003;348:919-32.

2 Mattar MC, Lough D, Pishvaian MJ, Charabaty A. Gastrointestinal Cancer Research.2011;4:53-61.

3 Chan AT, Giovannucci EL. Primary prevention of colorectal cancer. Gastroenterology. 2010;138:2029-2043.

4 Fung T, Hu FB, Fuchs C, et al. Major dietary patterns and the risk of colorectal cancer in women. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2003; 163:309-314.

5 Thygesen LC, Gronbaek M, Johansen C et al. Prospective weight change and colon cancer risk in male US health professionals. International Journal of Cancer. 2008:123:1160-5.

6 Pischon T, Lahmann PH, Boeing H et al. Body size and risk of colon and rectal cancer in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC). Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2006;98:921-31.

7Paskett ED, Reeves KW, Rohan TE et al. Association between cigarette smoking and colorectal cancer in the Women’s Health Initiative. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2007;99:1729-35.

8 The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, press release.

9 Howard RA, Freedman DM, Park Y, Hollenbeck A, Schatzkin A, Leitzmann MF. Physical activity, sedentary behavior, and the risk of colon and rectal cancer in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study. Cancer Causes and Control. 2008;19:939-53.

10 Nilsen TI, Romundstad PR, Petersen H, Gunnell D, Vatten LJ. Recreational physical activity and cancer risk in subsites of the colon (the Nord-Trondelag Health Study). Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. 2008;17:183-8.

11 Friedenreich C, Norat T, Steindorf K et al. Physical activity and risk of colon and rectal cancers: the European prospective investigation into cancer and nutrition. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. 2006;15:2398-407.

12 Doyle C, Kushi LH, Byers T et al. Nutrition and physical activity during and after cancer treatment: an American Cancer Society Guide for informed choices. CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 2006;56:323-353.

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