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Risk factors

Any substance or condition that increases a person’s chances of developing cancer is referred to as a “risk factor.”

There is no single cause of colon cancer, but several risk factors increase your chance of developing the disease. Just because you have some risk factors doesn’t mean that you’ll get colon cancer, but it does mean that your chances of developing it are higher.

The following factors are known to increase the risk of developing colon cancer:

  • being 50 years old or older
  • having a family history of colon cancer, especially if a parent, sibling or child was diagnosed under the age of 50
  • having a personal or family history of polyps
  • having familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), which is a rare condition caused by a gene mutation
  • having hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), which is a rare condition caused by a gene mutation
  • not being physically active or living a sedentary lifestyle
  • being overweight
  • eating a diet high in red meat (beef, pork, lamb and goat)
  • eating a diet high in processed meats that are preserved by smoking, curing, salting or adding preservatives such as nitrates and nitrites
  • eating meat or fish that has been cooked at high temperatures
  • drinking more than two standard alcoholic drinks a day
  • eating a diet low in fibre
  • having inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, which increase risk because the colon becomes chronically inflamed
  • having diabetes
  • smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke
  • being of Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) ethnic background

Nothing about being gay or bi puts us inherently at risk for developing colon cancer. What’s important is that we’re screened regularly to help make sure that we don’t get the disease. Some people develop colon cancer without having any of these risk factors.

Visit for more detailed information about these risk factors.