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Colon Cancer Causes and Risks

While the cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, there are certain known risk factors. Some risk factors, like excessively drinking alcohol, can be controlled. Others, such as a person's family history, can't be changed.

Researchers have found some factors that could potentially increase a person's chance of getting polyps or colorectal cancer.

Risk factors you cannot change:

  • Your age: Your potential for developing polyps or colorectal cancer increase as you age.
  • If you have previously had colorectal cancer or certain kinds of polyps, your chances of developing colon cancer increases.
  • If you have a history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, you are at a higher risk for developing colon cancer later in life.
  • A family history of colorectal cancer means that you have an increased chance of facing colon cancer yourself.
  • A person with Type 2 diabetes has an increased risk of developing colon cancer, as well.
  • If your family has a history of certain syndromes, like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC, also called Lynch syndrome), you have an increased chance of developing colon cancer as you age.

Risk factors you can change:

  • A diet that is high in red meats and processed meats will increase a person's chance of developing colon cancer later in life.
  • Studies have shown that cooking meats at very high temperatures (frying, broiling, or grilling) can create chemicals that could potentially increase a person's cancer risk.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Being very overweight (or obese).
  • Smoking.
  • Heavy alcohol use.