Q&A: Colon Cancer Risk

March 19, 2017

Dr. Joel McFarland and other members of our Rochester Regional Health Gastroenterology Department answer these questions about colon cancer. 

Q: Am I at risk for colon cancer? What puts me at higher risk? 

A: The answer is yes.  Even if there is no colon cancer in your family, you are still at risk. 75 percent of colon cancers are found in people who are of average risk (not high risk). Your chance of getting colon cancer in your lifetime is about 4.7 percent for men and 4.4 percent for women.  YES, women get colon cancer too.  It is NOT just a “man’s disease." Being 50 or older is not a high risk indicator, colon cancers are more common above that age.  This is when we begin routine screenings with colonoscopy.

High risk factors for colon cancer include: 

  • If you have a personal history of colon cancer or colon polyps (adenomas), a family history of colon cancer (in a parent or sibling) or colon polyps (adenomas) at an early age, a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, obesity or type 2 diabetes – all of these present higher risk
  • Colon cancers are more common in African Americans.  People with Eastern European Jewish ancestry (Ashkenazi) have the highest risk of colon cancer of any ethnic group in the world.
  • There are some genetic concerns, though these are less common.  If a family member has had colon cancer at a young age, or other cancer; you should ask your primary doctor about your risk.