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22nd August 2022

Colorectal cancer, also known as ‘Bowel cancer’, is a condition where excessive growth of cells affects the colon (large intestine) or the rectum. It is more common amongst people aged 50 and older but can also occur in younger patients. It is possible to have colon and rectal cancers with no known risk factors. However, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Understanding these risk factors for colorectal cancer is the key to prevention and may reduce the likelihood of developing the disease. Regular screening tests are recommended to look for signs of cancer or benign polyps.

Following are the possible risk factors:

  • Personal or Family History
    If an individual has a previous history of benign adenomatous polyps, the chances of getting cancer can increase with age. However, polyps can be removed before they become cancerous. If someone has had colorectal cancer before, they’re at risk of developing it in another part of the colon or the rectum.
    A history of adenomatous polyps, colon, or rectal cancer in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) increases the risk for other family members. Thus, family history, especially of first degree relatives with colorectal cancer, is a significant factor for one to consider screening. The recommended screening for ‘increased risk’ screening is colonoscopy starting at the age of 40 years’ old and every 5 years after that.
  • Inflammatory Intestinal Conditions
    People with long-term inflammatory bowel conditions such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's Disease are more likely to experience cellular changes in the bowel. These changes can eventually become cancerous. In such conditions, patients should receive early and regular screenings, as advised by their doctor.
  • Inherited Genetic Syndromes
    Lynch Syndrome and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), MYH-associated polyposis, or Hereditary Non-Polyposis are some of the syndromes that raise concern over the development of colorectal cancers. These syndromes occur when a genetic mutation associated with colon or rectal cancer is passed down through a family’s genes.
    It is important to note that the risk is higher if a relative is diagnosed before the age of 45. Individuals with a history of two or more family members with colorectal polyps or cancer should be screened early and be monitored by a specialist.
  • Age
    Colorectal cancer is much less common in people younger than 40, except for those with a strong family history. Generally, cases of colorectal cancer are observed in older people. However, we are now seeing more patients in their mid-forties with colon cancer.

Other risk factors:

Many of the risk factors, such as family history or genetic syndromes can't be changed. But, by controlling lifestyle factors, one can lower the risk of colorectal cancer.

  • Sedentary lifestyle
    Being physically inactive increases the chances of getting colorectal cancer. Moderate exercise every day can reduce the risk.
  • Being obese/overweight
    Too much weight can raise the risk of developing colon and rectal cancer. Obesity can be life-threatening for the ones suffering from colorectal cancer.
  • Diet
    High consumption of red or processed meat and a low intake of fruits and vegetables can raise the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Smoking
    Known for having cancer-causing agents, “carcinogens”, cigarette smoking is injurious to health. People who smoke cigarettes are more likely to develop colorectal cancer, as well as many other cancers and diseases.
  • Alcohol
    Heavy consumption of alcohol can increase the risk of getting colorectal cancer.


Minimizing the risk of colon and rectal cancer is possible by addressing the early signs and getting regular screenings. Keeping a check on lifestyle factors is another way of reducing the chances of colorectal cancer. Talk to a specialist about your concerns to make an informed decision.