Risks and Prevention

A number of factors can increase a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer. The good news is that there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

In most cases, you can prevent colorectal cancer by undergoing screening to detect and remove polyps from the colon before they become cancerous. This examination is called a colonoscopy.

Colonoscopies have been shown to significantly reduce the chance of developing colorectal cancer. Even in people who develop colorectal cancer, the disease can usually be cured if caught early enough — the five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer detected at an early stage is about 90 percent.

Factors such as your age, family medical history, and genetics can affect your level of risk. We’ll evaluate that risk and recommend tests accordingly.

Factors That Increase Risk of Colorectal Cancer
Many factors can increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Some are beyond your control, but others can be affected by your lifestyle.

What can’t be changed include:

  • Age:  Most cases occur in people in their 60s and 70s. Cases before age 50 are relatively uncommon unless there is a family history of early colorectal cancer.
  • Polyps:  The presence of polyps in the colon increases risk, especially if they are large or if there are many of them.
  • Personal history of colorectal cancer:  If you’ve previously been diagnosed and treated for colorectal cancer you’re at higher risk for developing it again.
  • Personal history of bowel disease:  Inflammatory bowel diseases (including ulcerative colitis or Crohn's colitis) increase your risk of colorectal cancer because they inflame the colon over extended periods of time.
  • History of ovarian, uterine, or breast cancer:  Women who have had any of these cancers are at higher risk.
  • Race or ethnic background: African Americans and Jews of Eastern European descent are at higher risk
  • Family history of colorectal cancer:  Someone with a family history of the disease, especially in a parent or sibling before the age of 55 or multiple relatives at any age, is at a higher risk.
  • Genetics:  About 20 percent of colon cancer cases come because of specific genetic mutations.

What can be changed:

  • A diet that is high in red, processed, or heavily cooked meats.
  • Lack of exercise.
  • Obesity, particularly having excess fat in the waist area, rather than the hips or thighs.
  • Cigarette smoking: Studies indicate that smokers are 30 to 40 percent more likely than nonsmokers to die of colorectal cancer because they are more likely to develop polyps.
  • Too much alcohol consumption.

For patients who are concerned about inherited family syndromes that cause colon cancer, we offer advanced genetic testing to let you know your risk. Take the online assessment.

Colorectal cancer prevention
There are other things you can do to help reduce your risk of developing colorectal cancers, including increasing the amount of vitamin D, calcium, magnesium and folic acid in your diet.

Aspirin and other NSAIDs
It is possible that aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen, as well as some arthritis drugs, may lower the risk of colorectal cancer and polyps. Aspirin may even prevent the growth of polyps in people who were previously treated for early stages of colorectal cancer or who had previously had polyps removed from the colon. However, you should talk with us prior to beginning any NSAID remedy.

Hormone-replacement therapy
It is possible that hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) for women, which consists of estrogen and progesterone and is used after menopause, may also help reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. However, the decision to use HRT is one that should be made between you and your doctor after discussing the potential benefits and risks.

The National Cancer Institute provides current information about risks and benefits of postmenopausal hormone use on their website.