Risk Factors for Colon Cancer

The following risk factors increase your chance of developing colon cancer — but they are all things you can control:

  • a diet high in red, processed, or heavily cooked meats
  • a lack of exercise
  • obesity, particularly excess fat around the waist
  • smoking (studies show that smokers are 30 to 40 percent more likely to die of colorectal cancer)
  • drinking too much alcohol

Some risk factors can’t be controlled. These include:


Most colon cancers occur after age 50 (unless there is a family history of the disease or a hereditary cause).


If you have precancerous colon polyps (abnormal growths on the inside surface of the colon), you’re more likely to develop colon cancer. This is especially true if they’re large or you have a lot of them. 

Family History of Lynch Syndrome or Familial Adenomatous Polyposis

There are some inherited disorders that dramatically increase your risk of developing colon cancer. These include Lynch syndrome and familial adenomatous polyposis. Learn more about these and other inherited conditions that affect your risk for colon cancer as well as our genetic testing services.

History of Cancer

If you’ve had colon cancer before, you’re at an increased risk of developing it again.

History of Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory bowel diseases such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s colitis increase your risk of colon cancer.

Family History of Cancer

You have an increased risk for colon cancer if:

  • a close family member, such as a parent or sibling, had colon cancer before age 50;
  • several blood relatives have had colon cancer; or
  • there is a family pattern of certain other cancers, including endometrial, ovarian, gastric, urinary tract, brain, and pancreatic cancers.

People who regularly use aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may have a lower risk of colon cancer and polyps. Aspirin may also help prevent polyp growth in people who were previously treated for early-stage colon cancer or who previously had colon polyps removed.

However, NSAIDs can have serious side effects and should be taken only under your doctor’s direction. Aspirin can cause stomach bleeding in some people, and drugs such as celecoxib may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Using hormone-replacement therapy (HRT) consisting of estrogen and progesterone after menopause may reduce a woman’s risk of colon cancer. However, HRT can potentially cause other health problems. Talk to your doctor to learn more about the potential benefits and risks associated with HRT.