The Major Causes of Colon Cancer and
How To Lower Your Risk
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer, also known as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine. Colon cancer typically impacts adults ages 50 and over, but it can happen at any age.
Colon cancer usually begins as small polyps that form on the inside of the large intestine (colon), but overtime some of the polyps can become cancerous.
There are a few factors that can put you at higher risk of contracting colon cancer.
Major Causes of Colon Cancer
There are a few different factors that can put you at a higher risk of colon cancer. These include:
- Family history of colon cancer
- Diet and exercise habits
- Smoking and alcohol use
- Racial and ethnic background
Family History of Colon Cancer
Most colon cancer diagnoses are made in people who do not have a family history of colon cancer. However, according to Cancer.Org, 1 in 3 people who develop colon cancer have also had family who has it.
If one of your first degree relatives (such as a parent, sibling, or child) has colon cancer, then you’re at an increased risk of contracting it.
Lynch syndrome is the most common hereditary form of colon cancer. Lynch syndrome is commonly caused by an inherited defect in your MLH1, MSH2 or MSH6 gene. These specific genes are what normally would help repair damaged DNA, but when there is a defect they don’t perform the function properly.
People with Lynch syndrome typically develop cancer when they are relatively young, but it’s not just limited to colon cancer. Lynch syndrome can cause cancers such as ovarian, stomach, small intestine, pancreatic, breast, and other cancers.
Another small percentage (about 1%) of inherited colon cancer is caused by Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP). This is when the APC gene that an individual inherits from their parents, causes hundreds to thousands of polyps to develop in their colon.
With FAP, cancer can typically develop as early as 20 years of age. By the time they reach age 40, all people with FAP will have colon cancer unless their colon was fully removed to prevent it.
Overall, though the risk is low for inherited colon cancer, it’s important those with family history are regularly screened for it.
Diet and Exercise Habits
Being overweight or obese are major causes of colon cancer.
Maintaining a healthy weight is key to minimizing the risk of cancer in both men and women—though men are at higher risk of contracting colon cancer due to weight.
It’s important to incorporate moderate to vigorous exercise into your daily routine, to help lower your risk of contracting cancer.
Individuals should also be mindful of what foods cause colon cancer. A diet high in red meats and processed meats increases your risk.
Studies have also shown low vitamin D levels can increase your risk. It’s crucial you follow a healthy diet that incorporates fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and avoids processed meats and excess sugars.
Smoking and Alcohol Use
It should come to no surprise that smoking and alcohol are major causes of colon cancer. If you smoke, you’re much more likely to die of cancer.
Colon cancer has also been linked to heavy/moderate alcohol use. In some cases, even light alcohol intake is associated with some level of increased risk of colon cancer.
If you want to lower your risk, the best thing you can do is avoid alcohol. If you do drink alcohol, Cancer.Org suggests men should have no more than 2 drinks a day and women 1 drink a day.
Racial and Ethnic Background
Studies show that African Americans have the highest rates of colon cancer and mortality rates in the United States.
African Americans are roughly 20% more likely to develop colon cancer than other groups, and 40% more likely to die from it.
The causes of this disparity are far and wide, but a large contributing factor is access to adequate healthcare screenings. Preventative screenings are largely tied to socioeconomic status.
It’s important that underserved groups have the opportunity to take ownership of their health, and have access to early detection and prevention. Platforms like Connect2Heal are working to bridge the gap between patients and physicians of color.
African Americans are not just disproportionately affected by colon cancer, but rather all cancers. It’s crucial that important issues impacting the African American population—such as lower paying jobs, lack of adequate health insurance, and lack of access to healthy food—are addressed to help improve overall quality of life.
Colon Cancer Screening Tests
As with most cancers, early detection of colon cancer is key to treatment. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests all adults ages 45-75 should be screened .
There are different types of tests individuals can have performed:
1. Colon Cancer Screening Stool Test
Colon cancer screening stool tests, or sometimes known as the colon cancer screening fit tests, are commonly used by healthcare providers.
There are different types of stool tests, including the guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), fecal immunochemical test (FIT), and the FIT-DNA test. Each of these tests looks to see if there is blood present.
2. Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
This test is where the doctor inserts a short and thin tube into the rectum, to check for polyps inside the rectum, and only the lower third of the colon.
This typically occurs every 5 years, or every 10 years if you have a FIT every year.
This is very similar to a flexible sigmoidoscopy, except it looks at the entire colon. During this procedure, physicians are typically able to remove polyps and some cancers.
Also, if any abnormalities are found during other screening tests, colonoscopies are typically the follow-up test that is performed. These typically occur every 10 years for people who are not at an increased risk of developing colon cancer.
4. CT Colonography
This is a virtual colonoscopy. In these tests, x-rays and computers are used to produce images of the whole colon that are then displayed on a computer screen where a physician can interpret them.
Which Colon Cancer Screening Option is Right for you?
Keeping your physician up to date with all family and personal medical history, and any factors that may increase your risk of colon cancer, is crucial.
As with most cancers, early detection is key. It’s important you feel empowered to take ownership of your health, and choose the screening and treatment options that are best for you.
Be sure to checkout Connect2Heal and connect with a physician today.