Rectal Cancer Risk Factors
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What Are the Risk Factors for Rectal Cancer?
Abnormal growths on the soft tissues lining the rectum or anal canal may, over time, become cancerous. The causes of rectal cancer are not completely known, but researchers have discovered several factors that may play a role. Anything that may contribute to the development of pre-cancerous conditions is called a risk factor. The degree of control you have over these factors varies.
Some rectal cancer risk factors, like diet and exercise, are manageable, whereas a condition like Lynch Syndrome is passed on from parents to their children. Other risk factors, like age or a history of diabetes are not necessarily controllable, but the overall risk associated with these factors may be minimized by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Lifestyle Risk Factors for Rectal Cancer
Many risk factors for rectal cancer are associated with lifestyle - and are within your control. Smoking, dietary habits and inactivity are leading risk factors for this type of cancer.
- Smoking Tobacco - There is evidence that the chemicals released into the body from smoking cigarettes may increase the risk of cancer. Long-term smokers are more likely to develop rectal cancer than those who don't smoke.
- Alcohol Abuse - Heavy drinking may lead to an increased risk of rectal cancer.
- Dietary Habits - Eating processed meats, or meats cooked at very high temperatures, may increase the risk of rectal cancer. However, eating an abundance of vegetables may actually reduce your risk.
- Inactive Lifestyle - Exercising may minimize your rectal cancer risk. In addition, maintaining a healthy weight may help reduce your risk of developing the disease.
Personal Medical History
As people age, the risk of developing rectal cancer increases. Most rectal cancers are diagnosed in people over 50. In addition to age, a person's medical history may reveal other rectal cancer risk factors, such as:
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) - Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are two specific conditions that cause inflammation or irritation of the colon and rectum. Other similar conditions may also be characterized as IBD. Long-term inflammation or irritation of the colon or rectum increases the risk for cancer.
- Obesity - Being overweight increases the risk of rectal cancer. Although this risk may be most often associated with certain dietary habits or physical inactivity, some medical conditions can contribute to obesity.
- 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).
- History of Cancer or Polyps - Those with a personal history of colorectal cancer may be more likely to develop rectal cancer. In addition, polyps, which are benign (non-cancerous) growths may become malignant (cancerous).
Most causes of rectal cancer are due to gene mutations; that is cancerous changes in the DNA that occur over a person's lifetime. However certain inherited conditions may make you more prone to developing rectal cancer.
Approximately five percent of diagnoses occur in people who are genetically predisposed for the disease. People who come from families with a history of colorectal cancer or polyps may also be at an increased risk.
- Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) - This condition causes hundreds, if not thousands, of benign growths (polyps) to form on the lining of the colon and rectum. If not surgically treated, these polyps may become cancerous.
- Lynch Syndrome - Also called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), Lynch Syndrome increases the likelihood of an individual developing rectal cancer at a younger age, like before the age of 45.
- Turcot Syndrome - This rare genetic condition may cause multiple adenomatous colon polyps to develop, therefore increasing the risk of both colon and rectal cancers.
- Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome (PJS) - This syndrome may be inherited from a parent or develop spontaneously. This rare condition causes large polyps to form throughout the digestive tract.
NOTE: 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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