What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the large intestine, or colon, which is the final part of the digestive tract. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosis in America among both men and women.
Approximately 1 in 23 men and 1 in 25 women are diagnosed with colorectal cancer during their lifetime. It is the third leading cause of cancer death in the US, and it is expected to claim over 50,000 Americans by the end of 2020. To lower your risk of colon cancer, it’s important to know which risk factors are associated with colon cancer and how to avoid them if possible.
What are the risk factors of colon cancer?
Doctors aren’t certain about the exact causes of colon cancer, but numerous studies show that certain risk factors can increase your risk of developing colon cancer, such as age, ethnicity, family history, personal history, and lifestyle habits.
While colon cancer can be diagnosed at any age, it is most likely to be found in people over the age of 45. In recent years, the rates of colon cancer have been increasing in people under 50, which caused the American Cancer Society to lower the recommended age to begin screening for colorectal cancer from 50 years of age down to 45.
African Americans have the highest incidences of colorectal cancer among any other ethnic group in the United States, as well as the highest mortality rates. Ashkenazi Jews (Jews of Eastern European descent) have the highest colorectal cancer risk among any ethnic group worldwide.
If someone in your family has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer or a has a history of colon polyps, you are at a higher risk of developing the disease.
As many as 1 in 3 people diagnosed with colorectal cancer have family members who have had it. People with a first-degree relative such as a parent, child, or sibling who had colon cancer are at increased risk. That risk is even higher if the relative was first diagnosed with the disease when they were under 50 years old, or if more than one blood-related family member has been diagnosed.
There are also other hereditary disorders that can increase your risk of colon cancer, such as Lynch syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
People with a personal history of type 2 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, colorectal polyps, or previous treatment for certain cancers may have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. If you know your personal history involves these ailments you should schedule a screening for colon cancer.
Lifestyle habits are the only risk factors for colon cancer that we have the power to change through our actions. Some choices that can reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancer include adopting a healthy, active lifestyle; limiting use of tobacco and alcohol; and eating a varied diet that is high in fiber.
Limiting Your Use of Tobacco & Alcohol
Long-term tobacco use and moderate to heavy alcohol consumption are both linked to increased instances of colorectal cancers. If you are a smoker, you should quit. Although it may be difficult, there are many programs available to help you kick the habit. Alcohol should be consumed in moderation, if at all. If you choose to drink alcohol, you should limit your intake to one drink per day for women or two drinks per day for men.
Adopting a Healthy & Active Lifestyle
A sedentary lifestyle is also associated with higher levels of colon cancer, as is being overweight or obese. Regular amounts of moderate physical activity (30 minutes of activity most days of the week) can help decrease your risk. If you’re currently living a sedentary lifestyle, start slowly and build up to exercising for 30 minutes at a time.
Eating a Varied Diet That is High in Fiber
Studies have also shown that a low-fiber, high-fat diet can increase your risk of colorectal cancer. A healthy diet that is full of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can lower your risk.
What type of food causes colon cancer? A diet high in red meat (beef, lamb, pork, or liver) and processed meats (luncheon meats, hot dogs) has been shown to raise your risk of colorectal cancer, as well as cooking meats at very high temperatures (frying, grilling, or broiling).
Digestive Health Centers of Dallas Can Help!
While there are several risk factors for colorectal cancer that we can’t control, there are some lifestyle choices that you can make to decrease your chance of colon cancer. Knowing your risk factors and knowing when to begin screening for colon cancer are two very important pieces of the puzzle.
To determine if it’s time for you to begin regular colorectal cancer screenings, Contact one of our board-certified gastroenterologists at Digestive Health Centers.