Learn more about colon cancer

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Did you know that approximately 145,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal each year?

Fortunately, according to the American Cancer Society, the death rate from colon cancer has decreased over the last 20 years. This is in part due to early detection from cancer screenings. Even so, how do you know if you are at risk for colon cancer, and when you should get a cancer screening?

Find more information on colon cancer screenings available at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

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Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

There are several risk factors you should be aware of that may increase your chance of developing colorectal cancer.


When you reach the age of 45, your chances of developing colorectal cancer increase significantly; however, colorectal cancer also develops in young adults.

Family and personal history of cancer or polyps

Even if you have had colorectal cancer removed your chances of developing the disease again is increased. According to the American Cancer Society, about one in five people with colorectal cancer have a family history of this disease. Your risk is increased if the family member is a parent, sibling, or child.


To lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer, you should consume high fiber foods, and avoid eating a lot of red and processed meats. You should also incorporate whole grains, fruits, and vegetables into your diet.

Alcohol use

Because those who drink alcohol frequently and heavily have lower levels of folic acid, colorectal cancer has been linked to heavy alcohol use.


A common misconception is that smoking may just cause lung cancer. However, smoking is a contributor to the development of other cancers, including colon and rectal.


Being overweight increases your risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer in both genders.

Sedentary lifestyle

It is important to be physically active for many reasons, but increasing your activity can help lower your risk.

History of ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease fall under inflammatory bowel disease. This is when the colon is inflamed for a long period of time. Dysplasia, (abnormal-looking cells in the lining of the colon or rectum), which is often developed in people with IBD, can develop into cancer.

Certain hereditary conditions

Certain hereditary conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC; Lynch Syndrome), are linked to colorectal cancers.

As always you should talk to your doctor about any concerns you have and what cancer screenings, if any, are right for you.

For more information on colorectal cancer and screenings tests, check out our colorectal cancer infographic.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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