Understanding the risk factors of colorectal cancer


No one is immune to cancer. People of all ages and from all walks of life can be diagnosed with cancer, though it’s important to recognize the tireless efforts of researchers whose work has done much to improve survival rates for an assortment of cancers.

The work of cancer researchers includes efforts to find treatments but also to learn about the disease, including its risk factors. Identifying the risk factors for certain cancers, including colorectal cancer, can help medical professionals as they advise patients on the best ways to reduce their risk for this deadly, yet often preventable disease.

The World Cancer Research Fund notes that colorectal cancer is the second most commonly occurring cancer in women and the third most commonly occurring cancer in men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States.

What is colorectal cancer?

Sometimes referred to as colon cancer, colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. The CDC notes that abnormal growths called polyps sometimes form in the colon or rectum, and these polyps may grow into cancer.

Why is screening important?

Screening for colorectal cancer is so important because it can find polyps and give doctors a chance to remove them before they turn into cancer.

What are the risk factors?

Age is a significant risk factor for colorectal cancer, as the CDC notes that roughly 90% of cases occur in men and women who are 50 or older. In addition to age, a family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps increases a person’s risk for the disease. Inflammatory bowel diseases like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis also can increase a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Those factors may be beyond individuals’ control, but the good news is that there is strong evidence that doing certain things can decrease the risk of colorectal cancer.

According to the WCRF, researchers have linked these behaviors with a decreased risk of colorectal cancer:

being physically active

consuming whole grains

consuming foods that contain dietary fiber

consuming dairy products.

It’s important to recognize that the inverse of these behaviors can increase a person’s risk of colorectal cancer.

The WCRF notes that consuming red meat, processed meat or alcohol, being overweight or obese, and being tall have been linked to an elevated risk of colorectal cancer.

When to consider screening

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that adults between the ages of 50 and 75 should be screened for colorectal cancer. Adults with a family history of the disease or those with an inflammatory bowel disease may need to be tested prior to turning 50.

Colorectal cancer is a significant threat, particularly for adults over 50. Adults must recognize that threat and discuss it with their physicians to reduce their risk for this often preventable disease. (MC) 

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