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Colorectal Cancer - What Increases Your Risk

A risk factor for colorectal cancer is something that increases your chance of getting this cancer. Having one or more of these risk factors can make it more likely that you will get colorectal cancer. But it doesn't mean that you will definitely get it. And many people who get colorectal cancer don't have any of these risk factors.

Risks you can't change

Your age

Everyone who is older than 50 has a risk of getting colorectal cancer. And the older you are, the greater the risk. Most cases of colorectal cancer are diagnosed in people older than 50.

Your race and ethnicity

African Americans are at greater risk of getting colorectal cancer (and dying from it) than non-Hispanic whites. And non-Hispanic white people have a higher risk than other major racial or ethnic groups, such as Hispanics, Asians, and Pacific Islanders.2

Ashkenazi Jews (Jewish people whose ancestors came from Eastern Europe) who have inherited certain genes are also at a higher risk for getting colorectal cancer.3

Your family's medical history

You are more likely to get colorectal cancer if one of your parents, brothers, sisters, or children has had the disease. This is considered a strong family history. Your risk depends on how old your family member was when he or she was diagnosed and on how many members of your family have had the disease.

You have a very strong family history if all of the following are true:

  • You have at least three relatives who have had colon cancer, endometrial cancer, or another related cancer, and at least one of the relatives is a parent, brother, or sister. Related cancers include ovarian cancer, stomach cancer, liver cancer, and cancer of the small bowel, among others.
  • Those relatives are spread over two generations in a row (for example, a grandparent and a parent).
  • One of those relatives had cancer before age 50.

Some common gene changes increase the chance of colorectal cancer. These changes are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome, also called hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC). Many people with these changed genes will get colorectal cancer if they aren't carefully watched. Genetic testing can tell you if you carry a changed, or mutated, gene that can cause FAP or HNPCC.

Your medical history

Your chances of getting colorectal cancer are higher if you have had:

Lifestyle changes, such as exercise and eating well, help reduce your risk. To learn more, see Prevention.


WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 29, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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