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Colorectal cancer risk factors

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common form of cancer (or third, excluding skin cancers) in both men and women in the United States. Knowing the risk factors for colorectal cancer may help you take preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of developing the disease.

colorectal cancer risk factors

Colorectal cancer risk factors


  • Age: Although colorectal cancer can occur at any age, the chances of developing the disease dramatically increase after the age of 50.
  • Racial and ethnic background: African Americans have the highest incidence of this disease in the United States. Ashkenazi Jews also have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.


  • Obesity: Being overweight increases your risk of developing colorectal cancer.


  • Family history of colorectal cancer: Although the reasons are not clear in all cases, inherited genes, shared environmental factors, or a combination of these factors can increase your colorectal cancer risks.
  • Inherited syndromes: The two most common inherited syndromes linked with colorectal cancers are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). Other syndromes that can increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer include Lynch Syndrome, Turcot Syndrome and Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome.


  • Diet: Diets that are high in red and processed meats (e.g., beef, lamb, hot dogs) can increase your colorectal cancer risks. Frying, grilling, broiling or other methods of cooking meats at very high temperatures create chemicals that may also contribute to an increased risk.
  • Inactive lifestyle: Individuals that live a sedentary lifestyle without physical activity have an increased chance of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Smoking: Some of the cancer-causing substances associated with smoking are swallowed and can increase the risk of developing this disease.
  • Alcohol use: Heavy alcohol use can lead to an increased risk of colorectal cancer.


  • Personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps: If you have had colorectal cancer before, you are more likely to develop cancer in other areas of the colon and rectum.
  • History of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Having IBD, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, increases your chances for developing colorectal cancer.
  • Type II diabetes: There may be an increased risk for rectal cancer associated with type II diabetes. This condition may also affect the prognosis (outlook).

Understanding risk factors

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer. Not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. If you think you may be at risk, you should discuss it with your doctor.

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