February 5, 2009

Who Is at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?

By Allyson J. Ocean, MD
Medical Oncologist, the Jay Monahan Center for Gastrointestinal Health
Medical Oncologist, Solid Tumor Service, NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital
Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine, Weill Medical College of Cornell University

Both men and women are at risk of developing colorectal cancer. In most cases colorectal cancer occurs in people 50 or older, but younger individuals can also get this disease. In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that people of African-American or Ashkenazi Jewish descent are at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Medical risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Personal or family history of colorectal polyps or cancer
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Personal or family history of an inherited genetic cancer syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer

Individuals who do not have any of these risk factors are considered at average risk for colorectal cancer and should begin screening at age 50. Those who do have one or more of these risk factors are considered at higher or increased risk for the disease. Although these medical factors cannot be changed, men and women at increased risk can protect themselves by discussing their risk factors with their physician and undergoing earlier and more-frequent screening as appropriate.

Lifestyle risk factors for colorectal cancer include obesity, smoking, physical inactivity, heavy alcohol consumption, and a diet high in red or processed meats or inadequate in fruits and vegetables. Fortunately, these are risk factors that can be changed! Men and women who have any of these lifestyle risk factors can consult their physician or nutritionist about adjusting their lifestyle to reduce their colorectal cancer risk and optimize their overall health and well-being.[1]

[1] Cancer Facts & Figures 2006. American Cancer Society Web site. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/downloads/STT/CAFF2006PWSecured.pdf. Accessed November 27, 2006.

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Tags: Colon Cancer, Uncategorized