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Fifteen Causes of Colon Cancer

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Updated: March 2, 2008

Interested in what causes colon cancer? Here you'll learn about 15 things that researchers have said cause colon cancer or contribute to its development. And yes, chances are you enjoy at least one of them. I know it isn't true, but sometimes when I read a new study I think of a Beaker-gone-evil meeping to himself: Alcohol? Sacking out on the couch? Yesss, maybe they cause colon cancer. Let me find out....

1. Age

Age is the number one risk factor for colon cancer. Does that mean that age causes colon cancer? Not directly. It's just that by age age 50, one in four people has polyps. You'll learn more about polyps and their role in #14.

2. Alcohol

Research has indicated that alcohol increases colorectal cancer risk. Research has also shown that it lowers it, or that it has no effect at all. So which is right? All of it may be. The key appears to be what kind of alcohol you're drinking.

3. Diabetes

A study published in the journal Gastroenterology found that insulin dependency contributes to colon cancer development. In general, diabetics are up to 40% more likely to develop colon cancer than people who don't have diabetes.

4. Diet

Diets high in fat and cholesterol (especially from animal sources) have been found to cause colon cancer. Low-fiber diets have also been associated with increased risk, but the research isn't as clear.

5. Environment

Research has shown that environment can play a big part in colon cancer development. Where you live, who's around you, your occupation, and even when you work may all influence your risk of developing colon cancer.

6. Ethnicity, Race, and Social Status

Does colorectal cancer afflict everyone equally or are some groups of people more likely to be diagnosed than others? The reasons are varied, but some groups get colorectal cancer more often than others. Ethnicity, race, and social status all play a part.

7. Family Medical History

Most colon cancer occurs in people with no family history of the disease. But, colon cancer can run in the family. Whether you're at increased risk depends on which family member was diagnosed and at what age.

8. Gender

You may have heard that men are more likely to get colorectal cancer than women. You may have heard it the other way around, too. Both statements can be true depending on the context.

9. Genetics

Researchers estimate that about 25% of colon cancer cases have some sort of genetic link. Examples of the most common genetic causes of colon cancer include mutations leading to FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis) and HNPCC (hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer).

10. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

Inflammatory bowel disease, often characterized by conditions such as ulcerative colitis and Chron's disease, increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer. In general, the longer a person has had inflammatory bowel disease, the greater his or her chance of developing colorectal cancer.

11. Lack of Exercise

There's no denying that exercise is good for you. The couch potato in me would like to see a study every once in a while declaring otherwise, but that just doesn't happen. Research has shown that a sedentary lifestyle contributes to colon cancer development.

12. Obesity

Nobody likes to have the word obese thrown at them. But, obesity is a medical term that indicates someone exceeds their recommended weight, one step beyond simply being overweight. And the answer to the question is yes, obesity does increase colon cancer risk.

13. Personal Medical History

Your personal medical history can significantly impact your chances of developing colorectal cancer. A medical history that includes polyps, bowel inflammation, or certain cancers is particularly relevant.

14. Polyps

Virtually all colon cancer develops from adenomatous polyps in the colon, generally referred to simply as colon polyps. A personal or family history of polyps puts you at higher risk for colon cancer.

15. Smoking

Long-term cigarette smoking causes colon cancer for two main reasons. First, inhaled or swallowed tobacco smoke transports carcinogens to the colon. Second, tobacco use appears to increase polyp size.

Now that you have a good handle on what causes colon cancer, why not learn what prevents it? Top 10 Colon Cancer Prevention Tips provides simple, straightforward advice for protecting yourself and your loved ones from colon cancer.

Sources:

Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Treatment. National Foundation for Cancer Research. 23 Jun. 2006 [http://www2.nfcr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=cancers_colorectal].

Detailed Guide: Colon and Rectum Cancer: What Are the Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer? American Cancer Society. 7 Mar. 2006. 23 Jun. 2006 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_2X_What_are_the_risk_factors_for_colon_and_rectum_cancer.asp].

Global Strategy on Diet, Physical Activity & Health: Documents and Publications: Chronic Disease Information Sheets: Physical Activity. World Health Organization. 23 Jun. 2006 [http://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/publications/facts/pa/en/index.html].

Overview: Colon and Rectum Cancer: What Causes Colorectal Cancer? American Cancer Society. 15 Mar. 2006. 23 Jun. 2006 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_2_2X_What_causes_colorectal_cancer.asp?sitearea=].

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