What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is cancer that forms in the large intestine (colon) or rectum. As is the case with most cases of cancer, the direct cause of the cancer is not always known and in most cases many factors can come together to make a person more likely to develop cancer. Cancer occurs when cells in your body mutate in certain ways; these mutations may make them grow uncontrollably and not function as normal cells. The abnormal replication of cancer cells is what makes them dangerous to your body. Multiple mutations may occur with some types of cancer; for example, in colon cancer, the development of a malignant tumor usually occurs after a benign mass called a polyp forms. The cells in a colon polyp grow abnormally and form a tumor, but they are not cancer. However, these cells can later undergo more damage and spread even faster, becoming colon cancer.

Risk factors for cancer are things that make a person more susceptible to developing that type of cancer. Some risk factors may be things that people need to watch out for that they have no control over, and others are related to lifestyle choices.

In the case of colorectal cancer, risk factors that a person can not control include age, heredity, other medical conditions affecting the colon, genetic diseases and ethnicity. Individuals older than 50 years are more likely to develop colorectal cancer than people younger than 50. If someone has a family history of colorectal cancer, they are also more likely to get colorectal cancer. People with diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis that involve chronic inflammation of the large intestine are also at a higher risk of colon cancer, as are those with uncontrolled celiac disease. There are two rare genetic diseases, called familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC), that run in families and increase the risk of developing colorectal cancer. These diseases count for a relatively small percentage of cases of colon cancer. Lastly, people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and African Americans are more likely to develop colon cancer than other ethnic groups.

Certain lifestyle choices have also been linked to a higher risk of developing colon cancer. Unlike the genetic, age and ethnic risk factors, however, these things can be changed to lower your risk of colon cancer if you are a susceptible individual. People who are very overweight are more likely to develop colon cancer than people who are within a healthier weight range. Exercise can help to lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Smoking cigarettes and heavy consumption of alcohol can increase the chances of developing many types of cancer, including colorectal cancer. Inividuals with type 2 diabetes, especially if it is untreated or poorly controlled, are also more likely to develop colorectal cancer. Lastly, a link has been found between high consumption of red meats and low consumption of vegetables and the incidence of colon cancer. Eating a more balanced diet can help reduce your risk.


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