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 there are several risk factors that increase your chance of developing it. Just because you have some risk factors doesn’t mean that you will get colon cancer, it only means that you are at an increased risk.

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

  • being 50 years and older
  • having a family history of colon cancer, especially if a parent, sibling or child developed it 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
  • having a personal history of breast, ovarian or uterine cancer
  • 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 the addition of preservatives such as nitrates and nitrites
  • eating meat and fish that has been cooked at high temperatures
  • drinking more than one standard alcoholic drink a day
  • eating a diet low in fiber
  • inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease increases risk because the colon becomes chronically inflamed
  • having diabetes
  • smoking
  • being of Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish) ethnic background

Remember, there is no single cause of colon cancer but some factors increase the risk of developing it. Some people develop cancer without having any of these risk factors.

Visit cancer.ca for more detailed information about these risk factors.