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Does a family history of colon cancer increase my risk?

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Updated: August 30, 2006

Question: Does a family history of colon cancer increase my risk?


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.

Answer: If a first-degree relative is diagnosed with colon cancer at age 60 or older, the diagnosis doesn't increase your risk. Parents, siblings, and children are all considered first-degree relatives.

If a first-degree relative is diagnosed with colon cancer before the age of 60, it does impact your risk. So if your mom were to be diagnosed with colon cancer at age 55, you'd be considered at increased risk for colon cancer. You'd also be considered at increased risk if two or more first-degree relatives were diagnosed with colon cancer at any age.

According to the American Cancer Society, if you fall into the category of increased risk, you should follow these screening guidelines:

  • Get a colonoscopy at age 40 or ten years before the age at which your youngest relative was diagnosed with colon cancer, whichever is earlier. (So if your brother was diagnosed at age 45, get a colonoscopy when you're 35. If he was 55, get a colonoscopy at age 40.)

  • Receive a follow-up colonoscopy every five or ten years, whichever your doctor thinks is best.
Sources:
  1. Detailed Guide: Colon and Rectum Cancer: Can Colorectal Polyps and Cancer Be Found Early? American Cancer Society. 7 Mar. 2006. 29 Aug. 2006 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_3x_Can_Colon_and_rectum_cancer_be_found_early.asp].
  2. Detailed Guide: Colon and Rectum Cancer: What Are the Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer? American Cancer Society. 7 Mar. 2006. 29 Aug. 2006 [http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_4_2X_What_are_the_risk_factors_for_colon_and_rectum_cancer.asp].

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