Risk Factors for Colon Cancer

Age. Colon cancer can strike at any age, but 91 percent of new cases occurs in people over 50.

Ethnic background and race. Colon cancer rates are highest in African Americans. Death rates are higher in African Americans and Hispanics because disproportionate screenings make these populations more likely to be diagnosed in advanced stages. Experts recommend African Americans get screened beginning at age 45.

Diet. Evidence shows that a diet made up of high-fat foods, especially from animal sources, can increase the risk of colon cancer. Limiting foods high in saturated fat and eating a balanced diet with plenty of plant-based foods will help protect from colon cancer.

Exercise. Inactivity can increase your risk of colon cancer, while moderate exercise for 30 minutes or more, at least five days per week, will reduce your risk.

Smoking and alcohol. Smokers are more likely to die of colon cancer. Moderate to heavy use of alcohol (four or more drinks per week) has been linked to colon cancer.

Personal history of bowel disease. Chronic ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease may increase risk of developing colon cancer. Patients with both inflammatory bowel disease and a liver disease called primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) are at very high risk.

Family history/genetic factors. If you have a parent or sibling younger than 60 or two relatives of any age who have developed polyps, you are at increased risk. It's important to remember that 85 percent of colon cancers occur in people with no family history of the disease. Also, anyone with a specific inherited gene syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), is at increased risk.