There are several known colon cancer risk factors. Some are inherited, but most are related to a person’s lifestyle. Researchers believe that nearly 70 percent of all colon cancers could be prevented by moderate diet and lifestyle changes.
Lifestyle-related colon cancer risk factors include:
- Unhealthy diet – Research suggests that individuals who eat a high-fat, low-fiber diet that includes regular servings of red meat may have an elevated risk of developing colon cancer.
- Obesity – Individuals who carry excess body fat (a condition that is different from being overweight) have a higher risk of developing colon cancer than individuals with healthier weight and body fat ratios.
- Lack of exercise – People who lead sedentary lifestyles are at risk for a number of major health complications, including colon cancer.
- Smoking (or use of other tobacco products) – Regular use of cigarettes, cigars, chewing tobacco and other tobacco-containing items can heighten a person’s risk of developing colon cancer.
- Excessive alcohol consumption – People who regularly consume more than 3.5 alcoholic drinks per day have 1.5 times the risk of developing colorectal cancer as compared to people who do not drink or consume fewer alcoholic beverages.
- Diabetes – Although diabetes is not always preventable, many cases develop as a result of poor diet and exercise habits. Those who have diabetes or insulin resistance may have an increased colon cancer risk.
Several other risk factors are unrelated to lifestyle. For instance, people with a family history of colon cancer or a personal history of chronic inflammatory diseases, such as ulcerative colitis, have an elevated risk of developing colon cancer. Older adults – especially men who are 50 years of age or older – are also more prone to the condition than younger individuals.
Even though research has helped identify individuals who have an elevated risk of developing colon cancer, some people are diagnosed with the condition without having any known risk factors. This is currently a topic of ongoing investigation. At Moffitt Cancer Center, we are routinely involved in colorectal cancer research, including studies to help determine what makes individuals more likely to develop the disease. In recognition of our excellence in cancer research, we have been named a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute.