While there are things you can do to reduce your risk of getting colorectal cancer, there are other factors that are out of your control. Here are a few things you can’t change that may increase your risk (chance) for getting the disease:
- Age: Although people of any age can get colorectal cancer, your risk of getting it increases as you get older. About 90% of colorectal cancer cases are in people aged 50 and older. In Alberta, it’s recommended that anyone aged 50 to 74 years should be screened with the FIT home stool test every year. After age 74, speak with your healthcare provider about your risk for colorectal cancer and when screening may no longer be of benefit.
- Personal history: If you’ve had colorectal cancer before, or a history of polyps or adenomas, you may be at higher risk. Talk to your healthcare provider to see how your past medical history may affect you and when you should be screened. It’s important to let your first-degree relatives (parent, sibling or child) know about your health history. Ask them to speak to their healthcare provider about the need to screen for colorectal cancer.
- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease: If you’ve been told you have inflammatory bowel disease affecting the colon, you may be at a higher risk because of inflammation in the lining of the colon.
- Family history: Next to age, family history is the most common risk factor for colorectal cancer.2 If there’s a history of colorectal cancer with a first-degree relative (parent, sibling or child), especially if that person was younger than 60 years old when they were diagnosed, you’re at higher risk. You may also be at a higher risk if there’s a history of advanced (high risk) adenomas in a first-degree relative.
While you can’t change things like your age or health history, there are things you can do to lower your chances. Getting screened regularly can help find colorectal cancer early. Removing polyps before they turn into cancer makes it possible to prevent the disease.
Know your family health history
If possible, find out about your family’s history of colorectal cancer. It’s important to tell your healthcare provider if any of your first-degree relatives (parent, sibling or child) have had colorectal cancer or advanced (high risk) adenomas. Having a family history may mean you should start screening for colorectal cancer at age 40 or younger.3
Talk to your healthcare provider about your risk for colorectal cancer and when you should be screened.
2. Cairns SR, Scholefield JH, Steele RJ, Dunlop MG, Thomas HJW, Evans GD, et al. Guidelines for colorectal cancer screening and surveillance in moderate and high risk groups (update from 2002). Gut. 2010 May;59(5):666-89
3. Toward Optimized Practice. Colorectal Cancer Screening Clinical Practice Guidelines. November 2013.