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How Your Family History Affects Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

How Your Family History Affects Your Risk for Colorectal Cancer

Mar 4, 2022

Several factors contribute to your personal risk for colorectal cancer. Some of these factors are within your control, including lifestyle habits such as diet and substance use, while others, such as genetics and age, are not. When it comes to family history and colorectal cancer, the more you know the better. 

“Roughly one in four colorectal cancer patients has the disease in their family history,” said Peter J. Senatore, Jr., M.D., director of the Rectal Cancer Program at Inspira Health. “Although most people who contract colorectal cancer do not have a family history of the disease, these cases still account for a sizable portion of the population.”

First-Degree Relatives Affect Your Risk Most

It’s important to establish who in your family has had colorectal cancer, how closely related you are and when they were diagnosed. First-degree relatives include parents, siblings, and children, whereas second-degree relatives include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, cousins, and nieces, and nephews.

People with first-degree relatives who have had colorectal cancer—especially those who were diagnosed at an early age—are at higher risk. For example, if your mother contracted colorectal cancer before the age of 50, your chances of developing it may be doubled. 

Your risk also increases if you have multiple family members—first- or second-degree—with the disease, which is referred to as familial colorectal cancer. Additionally, if you inherited a harmful DNA mutation directly from a parent, a scenario that affects 5-7 percent of all colorectal cancer patients, you are considered at even higher risk. 

Inherited syndromes include Lynch syndrome (hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer, or HNPCC) and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), but other less common syndromes can increase your risk as well. Many inherited syndromes are linked to cancer at a young age, making it important to identify families that carry these genes so preventive measures can be taken sooner rather than later. 
“When family history is a factor, early screening for colorectal cancer is crucial,” said Dr. Senatore. “Depending on individual circumstances, your doctor may recommend routine colonoscopy screening starting at an earlier age than average-risk patients. For those with inherited cancer syndromes, it can be as early as the teenage years. Genetic counseling may also be recommended in some cases.”

Screening Saves Lives

Colorectal cancer is referred to as a “silent killer” because it often manifests and can spread before any symptoms appear. This makes routine screening critical, so it can be detected and treated early, while it is most treatable. This is true of both genetic and non-genetic forms of colorectal cancer. 

If you are concerned about your personal risk, or you are over the age of 45, which is when the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends patients begin screening, call your doctor today to schedule an appointment. 

For more information reading colorectal cancer screening, click here

Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.

Topics: Colorectal Cancer, Gastroenterology