Research has shown people with certain risk factors have a higher chance of developing colon cancer before age 50.
If one or more of these risk factors applies to you, don’t put off talking to your doctor and take charge of your health.
If you’re experiencing pain, bleeding or other symptoms, be brave and talk to your doctor right away.
What’s your genetic risk? Take our quiz and find out!
Family History of Colon Cancer
About 10% of the population has a first degree relative with colon cancer.
First and second degree relatives (like children, siblings, grandchildren, nieces, nephews) of a person with a history of colon cancer are more likely to develop this disease themselves, especially if the relative had the cancer at a young age. If many close relatives have a history of colon cancer, the risk is even greater. Because of this, U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening starting at age 40 for these high-risk individuals or 10 years earlier than the youngest age of colon cancer diagnosis for any affected relative.
Changes in certain genes increase your risk of colon cancer.
Hereditary nonployposis colon cancer (HNPCC or Lynch Syndrome) is the most common type of inherited colon cancer, accounting for about 2% of all colon cancer cases. It is caused by changes in a HNPCC gene. If not closely monitored, most individuals with this altered gene develop colon cancer, with the average age at diagnosis being only 42-45, and a jarring 35-40% being diagnosed before age 40. General screening guidelines recommend colonoscopy every 1-2 years, beginning between the ages of 20-25, or five years younger than the earliest age at diagnosis in the family, whichever is sooner.
Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) is a rare, inherited condition in which hundreds of polyps form in the colon and rectum. It is caused by a change in a specific gene called APC. Unless FAP is treated, it usually leads to colon cancer by age 40. FAP accounts for less than 1% of all colon cancer cases.
Family members of people who have HNPCC or FAP can have genetic testing to check for specific genetic changes. For those who have changes in their genes, healthcare providers may suggest ways to try to reduce the risk of colon cancer or to improve the detection of this disease. For adults with FAP, the doctor may recommend an operation to remove all or part of the colon and rectum.
Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s Disease
A person who has had a condition that causes inflammation of the colon (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease) for many years is at an increased risk of developing colon cancer. Please be sure your doctor is aware of this condition and you are screened accordingly.
Other factors contributing to these young diagnoses have not been definitely identified, but we do know they’ve been occurring alongside an increased prevalence of obesity and diabetes – two known colon cancer risk factors. Other factors that may increase your risk of colon cancer include:
- Certain types of diets
- Inactivity and obesity
- Smoking cigarettes
- Heavy alcohol use
- Racial and ethnic background
What Kind of Warning Signs Do I Look For?
- Rectal bleeding
- Weight loss for no known reason
- Weakness or fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Diarrhea, constipation or narrower stools than usual
- Bowel never feels empty
- Blood in your stool (bright red or very dark)
- Persistent cramps, gas, pain, or feeling full or bloated