Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop colon and rectal (colorectal) cancer. While some factors like diet and lifestyle choices can be controlled, others, such as age and family history, can’t. Regardless, it’s important to understand the various factors that can increase your risk for colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer risk factors that you can control include:

  • Diet. Eating red meat (beef, pork, lamb, or liver) and processed meats (luncheon meats; hot dogs) in excess can increase your risk for colorectal cancer. The risk can be lowered, however, by adding more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain fibers to your diet.
  • Weight. Being overweight or obese, especially when most of the weight is carried in your midsection, can raise the risk of colorectal cancer in both men and women.
  • Lack of exercise. Physical inactivity can put you at an increased risk.
  • Alcohol use. Colorectal cancer has been linked to heavy alcohol consumption. Limiting alcohol use to 1 to 2 drinks per day can greatly decrease the risk.
  • Tobacco use. While smoking is a common cause of lung cancer, it has also been linked to other cancers, including colon cancer.

Colorectal cancer cases are rising in young adults. Learn about why it's more common in younger people and how to detect colon and rectal cancer early in our blog. 

Colorectal cancer risk factors that cannot be controlled include:

  • Age. Colon and rectal cancers are much more common among men and women aged 50 and older than in young adults.
  • Race/Ethnicity. People of African American descent and Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than people of other races.
  • Family history. Cancers can sometimes “run in the family” due to various factors, including inherited genes, shared environmental factors, or a combination of both. If you have a family history of adenomatous polyps or colorectal cancer in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, child), talk with your doctor. Genetic testing or getting screened at an earlier age might be recommended. Visit our page on The Genetics of Colon and Rectal Cancers to find out more about genetics and gene mutations related to the disease.
  • Personal medical history. The risk for colorectal cancer increases for people with medical conditions such as adenomatous polyps (adenomas) and inflammatory bowel disease (including ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease).
  • Diabetes. Patients with type 2 diabetes are at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. Additionally, they tend to have poorer outcomes of colorectal cancer treatment.

Having one or more risk factors does not mean that you will definitely develop colon or rectal cancer. Likewise, not having risk factors does not mean you will not get it. Our blog explains who is at risk of developing colorectal cancer.

If you think you may be at risk or if you are experiencing symptoms of colorectal cancer, talk with your primary doctor. They can help you determine when you should begin annual screening and which test is best for you based on your risk factors or determine if your symptoms are signs of cancer or another health condition. If there are no known risk factors, begin regular screening for colon cancer by age 45.

Colorectal Cancer Specialists Nearby in Portland-Vancouver

If you have been newly diagnosed with colorectal cancer, request an appointment with the colorectal cancer doctors at Compass Oncology in the Portland-Vancouver area. They are available to answer any questions about your diagnosis as well as create a personalized colorectal cancer treatment plan based on your condition.