Colorectal cancer occurs as the result of a series of genetic abnormalities in the cells that line the colon and rectum. In the majority of cases, these mutations occur sporadically, but there are a small number of cases that occur in families with defined mutations that put family members at very high risk.

Environmental factors involved in colorectal cancer can be distilled down to a combination of Westernized diet and lifestyle. The promoting factors are: high intake of fat, (especially animal fat), high calorie intake, obesity, diets heavy in fried or charred foods, tobacco use, and excess intake of alcohol - especially beer.

(Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin Cancer Annual Report – 2012 Data, “Colon and Rectal Cancer,” Kirk Ludwig, MD, FACS, FACR, Colorectal Surgeon, Chief Division of Colorectal Surgery)

Know Your Risk

In addition to the promoting factors mentioned above, some additional factors may put you at a higher risk for colorectal cancer.

  • The risk of developing colon cancer starts rising at age 40 and increases with age.
  • Colorectal cancer is most common after age 50.
  • The median age at which colorectal cancer occurs is 62 years.
  • There are cases of younger patients with no known risk factors who develop colon cancer before the age of 40.
  • Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) may have a higher rate of colon cancer.
  • Partly because of disproportionate screening, African Americans have a higher risk of developing colon cancer and a lower survival rate (about 20% higher incidence rate and 45% higher mortality rate) compared to Caucasians, Asians, Hispanics and Native Americans.
  • The risk of death due to colorectal cancer is increased for Native Americans and Alaskan Natives.

Five Easy Lifestyle Changes That Can Reduce Your Risk

Age (50+) is a factor in your risk for colorectal cancer. You can’t change your age, but there are many other ways to help reduce your risk through lifestyle changes and a regular screening program. There is clear and convincing evidence that screening is effective and is our most important strategy in reducing the incidence of colon and rectal cancer. Along with scheduling a screening, start incorporating these healthy habits to begin reducing your risk today.

  • Eat a low-fat diet
  • Eat between 25 and 40 grams of fiber each day from fruits, vegetables, whole grain breads, cereals, nuts and beans
  • Eat foods high in folate such as leafy green vegetables or supplementing the diet with a multi-vitamin with folate
  • Drink alcohol in moderation
  • Quit smoking
  • Exercise for 20 minutes, three to four times a week

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