Bowel Cancer Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of having the disease. Some risk factors are behavioural—you can eliminate or reduce them by creating new habits and making different lifestyle choices. Others are genetic or a combination of environmental and biomedical determinants. You are considered at risk for bowel cancer if you have one or more of the following criteria:
  • You are 50 or older. Most incidents of the disease occur in older people.
  • You have had bowel cancer or polyps in the past. Previous incidents increase the risk for the future.
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and other chronic inflammatory diseases of the bowel may increase your risk of bowel cancer.
  • Genetic predispositions. Certain genetic issues, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis bowel cancer (Lynch syndrome) increase your risk.
  • Family history. If a close family member (parent, sibling, child) has had bowel cancer or polyps, your risk increases—due to genetics or shared exposure to a carcinogen or similar lifestyle choices.
  • Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Bowel cancer may be associated with a diet low in fiber and high in fat and calories.
  • A sedentary lifestyle. Regular exercise may reduce your risk of bowel cancer.
  • Diabetes. The risk increases for those with diabetes and and insulin resistance.
  • Obesity. The risk of contracting bowel cancer and dying from bowel cancer increases for people who are obese.
  • Smoking. Smoking may increase the risk of developing bowel cancer.
  • Alcohol. Heavy drinking may increase the risk of bowel cancer.
  • Radiation therapy for cancer. Exposure to radiation therapy, particularly if directed at the abdomen, to treat previous cancers may increase the risk.

Having a risk factor does not necessarily mean that you have or will get cancer. The most important thing is to be aware of risk factors and to inform your doctor if one or more apply to you.