How do genes increase the risk of colon cancer?


Genetics definitely plays a role in colorectal cancer risk. Age and genetics are really important in terms of colon cancer and polyp formation. However, there are specific genetic syndromes that increase the risk of colon cancers. These include Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). These syndromes tend to run in families and are identified based on specific criteria that your doctor may discuss with you if appropriate.

We're finding from studies that people can have a combination of genes—maybe three, four or five genes—where each one individually causes just the slightest increased risk of colon cancer. On their own, they probably would not even be noticeable, but if you have three or four or five of them and they start adding up, overall they may cause a modest increase in risk.

I think where genetics is going to go in probably the next five years is where we can actually look at all your genes at once. It’s called the whole genome sequencing, where we can basically look at all 30,000 genes and see what kind of abnormalities, if any, are found, and then start backtracking and say, "Okay, what disorders are these associated with?" We’re probably going to be able to look backwards and start with the genes themselves and see what we identify, and see if we can piece together what’s going on in the family by the genes that have been identified.

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