What increases my risk for colon cancer?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

A variety of lifestyle and heredity factors can increase your risk for colon cancer. Older age; a high-fat, low-fiber diet; a lack of exercise; being obese; smoking; and drinking can all possibly increase your risk. In addition, a family history of colon cancer or polyps or a family history of certain genetic diseases such as Lynch syndrome can raise your risk. If you are diabetic, have an inflammatory intestinal disease, have had colon cancer or polyps previously, or had radiation therapy for previous cancers, your risk can also be raised. Lastly, colon cancer risk is highest for African Americans.

Your risk for colon cancer increases if you have a family member with colon cancer, if you are African-American, have inflammatory intestinal conditions like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, or have inherited genetic syndromes like Lynch syndrome. Additionally, your risk for colon cancer can climb if you:

  • live a sedentary lifestyle
  • smoke
  • drink heavily
  • have diabetes
  • are obese
  • eat a diet low in fiber and high in fat

This content originally appeared on

Your risk of developing colorectal cancer is higher if you have:
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease)
  • A history of large adenomatous polyps (growths of tissue that develop from gland cells)
  • A prior diagnosis of cancer of the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus), ovaries, or breast
  • A family history of hereditary cancer syndromes (familial polyposis or a similar disease)
  • A family history of colon cancer. The risk is significantly higher if you are age 40 to 60, but is not significantly higher if you are over 60. Also, the risk is higher if more than one relative has had colon cancer. However, colorectal cancer in a single family member does not carry the high risk incurred by hereditary cancer syndromes.

Although a diet low in fiber and high in animal fat, protein, and refined carbohydrates also seems to increase risk, its exact role is not known.

Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, DO

Certain factors—age, family history and more—can up your odds of developing colon cancer. Check out this video with gastroenterologist Dr. Lisa Ganjhu to learn what single procedure can lower your risk.

There are several behaviors that are known to increase your risk for developing colorectal cancers. They include:

  • Being overweight - To reduce your risk, check your body mass index (BMI).  Most experts consider a BMI between 25 and 29.9 to be overweight. If you’re overweight, talk with your doctor about a healthy weight loss plan.  
  • Smoking - The link between smoking and lung cancer is well known. But lesser known is that fact that smoking can also increase the risk of cancers of the digestive system, such as colon and rectal cancer. If you’re a smoker, talk with your doctor about a smoking cessation program that’s right for you. 
  • Drinking alcohol - Heavy drinking is associated with numerous health problems, and has been linked in some studies to the development of colon and rectal cancer. Drink in moderation (no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two drinks a day for men). 
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Here are some factors that increase risk of colon cancer:

  • Eating three or more servings of red meat a week
  • Drinking three or more alcoholic beverages a day
  • Currently smoking
  • Being obese
  • Being taller than 5 feet 7 inches

Here are some factors that decrease risk of colon cancer:

  • Using birth control pills for at least five years
  • Taking aspirin (325 mg tablet) four to six times a week
  • Eating more than three servings of milk or dairy products a day
  • Taking a daily multivitamin that contains vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, and folate
  • Taking a daily vitamin D supplement
  • Performing 30 minutes of exercise a day
  • Having colon cancer screening (colonoscopy) at regular intervals
  • Having inflammatory bowel disease

This content originally appeared on

Dr. Cedrek McFadden, MD
Colorectal Surgeon

Risks for colon cancer include:

  • Age: 50 years and older
  • Tobacco use
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle

Personal or family history of:

  • Colorectal cancer
  • Benign (not cancerous) colorectal polyps
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, such as long-standing ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease

Patients that are found to have colon polyps are at increased risk for the development of colorectal cancer. These polyps are removed during colonoscopy.

Continue Learning about Colon Cancer Causes & Risk Factors

What role do genetics play in colon cancer?
Daniel Labow, MDDaniel Labow, MD
Family history is a major risk factor in developing colony cancer. In this video, Daniel Labow, MD, ...
More Answers
Is obesity a risk factor for colorectal cancer?
Dr. Vincent T DeVita JrDr. Vincent T DeVita Jr
Yes. If you are very overweight, your risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer is increas...
More Answers
What Are the Risk Factors for Colon Cancer?
What Are the Risk Factors for Colon Cancer?
What Role Do Genetics Play in Colon Cancer?
What Role Do Genetics Play in Colon Cancer?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.