6 Surprising Facts About Colon Cancer

  • woman receiving results from doctor
    Protect your colon health with the facts.
    What you don't know about your colon might surprise you. If you think you're too young to get colon cancer, or that it's difficult to treat, it's time to brush up on your facts. Many things about your life and health can add up to an increased risk of colon cancer. Age, race, lifestyle habits, and other health conditions can all play a role. Read up on these facts, and don't let colon cancer take you by surprise.

  • Radiographer reassuring man going into CT scanner
    1. Colon cancer is often preventable.
    Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. But here's some good news: It can often be prevented. Screening tests can detect tiny polyps before they become cancerous. Doctors can then remove these polyps and prevent many cases of colon cancer. In the early stages, colon cancer often causes no symptoms. These screening tests can stop cancer before it advances.

  • woman smoking
    2. Smoking is a major risk factor.
    Lifestyle plays a role in your colon cancer risk, especially smoking. People who smoke tobacco products for a long time are more likely than nonsmokers to develop colon polyps and colon cancer. Smokers are also more likely to die from colon cancer. Quitting puts the brakes on this. The longer you've been a nonsmoker, the more your risk decreases.

  • young adult male with red hair
    3. Young people get colon cancer, too.
    Colon cancer usually strikes after age 50, but young people aren't off the hook. About 11% of colon cancer cases and 18% of rectal cancer cases are in people 50 and younger. And, the numbers are rising. Some experts think that's because younger people don't get enough exercise and are eating too much red meat and not enough fruits and vegetables. Having a family member who had colon cancer increases your risk of developing it at a younger age. Young people often have fewer symptoms and get diagnosed at a later stage.

  • patient and doctor reviewing results
    4. Race affects your risk.
    About 1 of every 20 people in the United States will get colon cancer at some point in their life. But if you're African American, your risk is higher: Black Americans are at least 25% more likely to develop colon cancer than White Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders. Black Americans are also more likely to die from colon cancer than are other races. This makes screening important for everyone, but especially those at an increased risk.

  • lady-abdominal-pain
    5. Inflammatory bowel disease increases your risk.
    If you have an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, you're more likely to develop colon cancer than someone who doesn't have an IBD. The longer you have IBD, the greater your risk of colon cancer. Those who've had IBD for longer than eight years are at the greatest risk. If you have Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, ask your doctor how often you should have a colonoscopy to screen for cancer.

  • Diabetic woman checking her blood sugar levels
    6. Type 2 diabetes increases your risk.
    Type 2 diabetes and colon cancer share a number of risk factors: excessive weight, poor diet, smoking, and not enough exercise. But people with type 2 diabetes are also more likely to develop colon cancer and die from the disease. No one knows just why this is the case. One theory is that high levels of insulin and sugar in the blood may cause changes in the colon that lead to cancer. Inflammation may also be to blame for the increased colon cancer risk.

6 Surprising Facts About Colon Cancer

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  1. Test Your Knowledge of Colorectal Cancer Screening. American College of Gastroenterology. http://patients.gi.org/gi-health-and-disease/colon-cancer-fact-sheet/ 

  2. What You Need to Know About Cancer of the Colon and Rectum. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cinj.org/sites/cinj/files/documents/WYNTK_Colon.pdf 

  3. What Are the Risk Factors for Colon Cancer? American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/colonandrectumcancer/detailedguide/colorectal-cancer-risk-factors

  4. Hannan LM, Jacobs EJ, Thun MJ. The Association between Cigarette Smoking and Risk of Colorectal Cancer in a Large Prospective Cohort from the United States. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. Dec 2009;18: 3362-3367. http://cebp.aacrjournals.org/content/18/12/3362.full 

  5. Rising Rates of Sporadic Colorectal Cancer in Young Adults: A Possible Environmental Link. American Society of Clinical Oncology. http://am.asco.org/rising-rates-sporadic-colorectal-cancer-young-adults-possible-environmental-link

  6. Colorectal Cancer Facts and Figures 2017-2019. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/content/dam/cancer-org/research/cancer-facts-and-statistics/colorectal-cancer-facts-and-figures/colorectal-cancer-facts-and-figures-2017-2019.pdf

  7. Frequently Asked Questions About Colorectal Cancer & IBD. Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America. http://www.ccfa.org/resources/faq-colorectal-cancer-ibd.html 

  8. Diabetes and Colon Cancer: An Emerging Link. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/research/acsresearchupdates/coloncancer/diabetes-and-colon-cancer-an-emerging-...

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Feb 8
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.