If you have a colon, you could get cancer
Health providers like to know what medical conditions your blood relatives have had. Called a family history, it can help your provider know what conditions you might be at risk for.
Family history is just one of many risk factors for any number of conditions, including colon cancer. Some risk factors can change. These include habits such as smoking and drinking can increase your risk for colon cancer.
Having risk factors won’t make it certain you’ll get colon cancer. Having no risk factors doesn’t mean you’re 100 percent in the clear either.
Have a colon? Get it screened
If you have a colon, you have a risk of getting colon cancer. That’s why getting a colon cancer screening is important.
Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., according to the American Cancer Society. It’s expected to cause about 52,980 deaths in 2021.
A colonoscopy is the best way to find and remove polyps (small growths that can become cancer) as well as small cancers before they spread. People at average risk of colorectal cancer should begin regular screening at age 45. People at higher risk for colorectal cancer should talk with their doctor about whether starting screening earlier might be right for them. If you have reservations about getting a colonoscopy, you have options. A fecal immunochemical test (FIT) must be done yearly to be effective. A FIT is not as thorough as a colonoscopy, but it’s better than no screening.
Aside from family history, what are other colon cancer risk factors?
- Being overweight or obese. According to the American Cancer Society, being overweightputs both men and women at higher risk for colon cancer.
- Smoking. While many people think smoking only causes lung cancer, it is linked to several types of cancers, including colon.
- Heavy drinking. Colorectal cancer has been linked to moderate and heavy drinking. Limiting alcohol intake can lower your risk — women can have one drink a day; men can have two.
- Being inactive. Exercising most days of the week can help lower your risk for many conditions, including colon cancer. Talk to your health provider about how to add activity to your day-to-day routine.
- Diet. Eating a lot of red and processed meats can put you at higher risk. Try eating less meat by adding more plant-based proteins to your diet.
No matter your risk, consider scheduling a colonoscopy if you’re over age 50. If you wait for noticeable symptoms, the cancer may be more advanced. Getting screened is your best bet to find and treat colon cancer early, which can save your life.