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Colon Cancer

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The exact causes of colon cancer are not known, but risk increases with age, being overweight or obese, and with the occurrence of cancers in other parts of the body. Risk also appears to be associated with factors, such as:

  • Genetics—having family members with colon cancer or colorectal polyps
  • Diet—high fat and meat diets are a risk factor, especially combined with not eating enough fruits, vegetables, and/or high-fiber foods
  • Lifestyle—these risk factors include cigarette smoking and lack of regular exercise

In particular, people with a personal or family history of colon cancer or polyps are at a higher risk as are those with ulcerative colitis, a form of inflammatory bowel disease, and immunodeficiency disorders. A rare inherited disease called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) causes benign polyps to develop early in life and causes cancer in almost all affected persons unless the colon is removed. People with another genetic syndrome called hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC, Lynch syndrome) also have a high risk of developing colon cancer. (For more, see Genetics Home Reference articles on FAP and Lynch syndrome.)

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