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I'm a Doctor and If This Sounds Like You, You May be at Risk of Colorectal Cancer

Here are the danger signs.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Over 100,000 Americans develop colorectal cancer each year, and it is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. However, screening tests can often find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop colorectal cancer.

Read on to find out more about colorectal cancer risk factors—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


You are Age 50 or Older

mature couple jogging outdoors

First, we will talk about risk factors you cannot change (non-modifiable). One of them is your age. Age increases your risk for CRC by 10 percent for each decade you are over age 50.


You Have a Personal History of Colorectal Cancer or Polyps

woman in bed suffering from cancer

A personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps increases your risk since you have already had cancer or a precancerous polyp in the past.


You Have a Family History of Colorectal Cancer

happy family on couch

If you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with CRC, your risk is double that of the general population. Having multiple first-degree relatives with CRC increases your risk even more.


You Have a Personal History of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn's Disease)

mature woman experiencing stomach pain from fatty liver disease

Chronic inflammation of the colon is a risk factor for developing CRC. Examples include Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. The risk of colorectal cancer for ulcerative colitis is estimated at 2% after 10 years, 8% after 20 years, and 18% after 30 years of disease.


These Genetic Syndromes

Partial view of woman holding paper made large intestine on grey background.

Certain Genetic syndromes associated with an increased risk of colorectal cancer, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome are associated with an increased risk of CRC. These include familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome.


You Are African-American…

African-american man suffering from stomach ache, lying on sofa at home

African-Americans have a greater risk of CRC than other racial groups.


… or You Have Ashkenazi Jewish Heritage

Jewish family celebrate Passover Seder reading the Haggadah

Ashkenazi Jewish heritage is associated with increased CRC risk, likely due to genetic factors. 

These were risk factors you cannot change, now let's focus on risk factors that you can actually do something about.


You are Obese

Woman sitting at the gym with pink pilates ball.

Being obese or overweight increases your risk of CRC since it causes inflammation throughout the body.


You Drink Too Much

woman refusing glass of alcohol

Heavy alcohol use is a risk factor for CRC because it can lead to inflammation and cell damage.


You Are a Couch Potato

overweight woman at home lying on the floor, laptop in front of her, prepared to work out on mat according to video

Physical inactivity is a risk factor for CRC since it is linked with obesity and inflammation.


You are Making Unhealthy Dietary Choices

Man eating pizza having a takeaway at home relaxing resting

An unhealthy diet high in red or processed meat, fat, and calories and low in fruits and vegetables is a risk factor for CRC. Red meat includes beef, pork, and lamb. Processed meats are meats that have been preserved by smoking, curing, salting, or with the addition of chemical preservatives. Fruits and vegetables contain fiber and nutrients that may protect against CRC.


You Had Certain Cancer Treatments

People who have had radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis for another cancer have an increased risk of developing CRC later on.


You Used Antibiotics For This Amount of Time


Emerging research suggests long term (over 6 months) antibiotic use can increase your risk of CRC This may be due to the effect antibiotics have on your natural gut bacteria or intestinal microbiome,


You are Still Smoking

no smoking sign

Smoking tobacco is linked with an increased risk of CRC since it is a known carcinogen.


What to Do If You are at Risk

talk to doctor

So if you have non-modifiable risk factors ask your doctor about CRC screening which can include fecal occult blood tests (FOBT), stool DNA tests (sDNA), colonoscopies, computed tomographic colonography (CTC).

If you have modifiable risk factors then change them! Some suggestions include:

  • Quit smoking
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit alcohol consumption to no more than 2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink per day for women
  • Be physically active for 30 minutes or more on most days of the week
  • Eat a diet high in fiber.

Check with your doctor and make sure you do screening and check for early symptoms of CRC. Routine screening for CRC is one of the most effective ways to prevent the disease or find it early when it's easier to treat. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find colorectal cancer early when the chances for successful treatment are better. 

Gethin Williams MD Ph.D. is the Medical Director of Imaging & Interventional Specialists.

Gethin Williams, MD, Ph.D
Gethin Williams, MD, Ph.D. is the Medical Director of Imaging & Interventional Specialists. Read more about Gethin
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