Colon cancer is increasingly prevalent in people under the age of 40 – and since most cancers tend to hit people over the age of 65, medical experts are understandably alarmed at this spike in younger cases. If someone in your family has had colon cancer, you might now be wondering to yourself, “Is colon cancer hereditary?” The answer is: sometimes. And if you think you might be at risk of developing this disease, you should look into colon cancer genetic analysis. A colon cancer DNA analysis will explore your genetic makeup, checking for changes or mutations that could render you more vulnerable to the disease. Knowing where your families colon cancer risk lies is especially important during a time where the disease is particularly prevalent – and the sooner you know what your odds are, the sooner you can start putting some preventative practices into place. But first, let’s look into some of the details of colon cancer.
What is colon cancer?
Colon cancer begins in the large intestine – also known as the colon. As the final part of the body’s digestive tract, the colon is responsible for removing water, nutrients, and electrolytes from partially digested food. In a case of infection, polyps (growths) will develop in the inner lining of your colon. If caught early, these polyps can be removed at a precancerous stage. However, if the polyps turn into tumors and become cancerous, you’re at risk of the infection spreading to other areas of your body…and eventually having fatal effects. Colon cancer is the third most common cancer that is diagnosed in people in the U.S. Cisgender men are slightly more likely to develop the disease than cisgender women, and for unknown reasons, Black people seem to be more susceptible to colon cancer than other ethnic groups or races. While colon cancer typically affects those who are 50 or older, the number of people between 20-49 who contract colon cancer has gone up by 1.5 percent each year for the past 15 years – and the reasons behind this remain unknown.
The major recognized symptoms of colon cancer
Here are some of the main recognized symptoms of colon cancer. However, keep in mind that in many cases, people experience no symptoms during early stages of the disease – and symptoms can also vary depending on the cancer’s size, location, and period of development.
- A persistent change in bowel habits (like diarrhea, constipation, or a change in stool consistency)
- A feeling that the bowels aren’t being emptied completely
- Blood on or in stool
- Abdominal pain with no known cause, that hurts a lot and doesn’t go away
- Constant abdominal bloating that lasts longer than a week
- Vomiting for no known reason
- Unexpected and unexplained weight loss
- Shortness of breath
Is colon cancer hereditary?
As we mentioned earlier, colon cancer can definitely be hereditary – especially if you happen to have a genetic condition known as Lynch syndrome, or “hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer”. Three percent of colon cancer cases develop from Lynch syndrome, and these cases also tend to occur in people under the age of 50. Lynch syndrome is hereditary – caused by an inherited genetic change or mutation that can be passed on from one generation to another. If one person in your family has Lynch syndrome, parents, children, and siblings are 50 percent more likely to develop it themselves. And as a result, you’ll be that much more susceptible to contracting colon cancer. People with Lynch syndrome are also more likely to develop other forms of cancer, like ovarian, liver, kidney, brain, skin, and uterine cancer. Knowing you have Lynch syndrome – or that it runs in your family – is a primary and major reason to pursue colon cancer genetics. Beyond colon cancer being hereditary, genetic testing is also a good idea to look into if you’ve been diagnosed with colon cancer in the past, or if you’ve been previously diagnosed with endometrial cancer.
Other main causes of colon cancer
So…is colon cancer hereditary? While it certainly can be, there are other reasons a person might contract the disease. Here are some of the main recognized causes of colon cancer – things to remain mindful of in your daily routine.
- Older age
Although colon cancer is becoming more prevalent in younger people, it remains most commonly found in people over the age of 55. In fact, most forms of cancer are more likely to contract when a person is older, which is why health becomes increasingly important to stay mindful of as you age.
- Smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol
Tobacco use and/or excessive alcohol consumption also increase your risk of several forms of cancer, and colon cancer is no exception. If you want to stay safe against the odds, you’ll keep your smoking and drinking habits to a minimum.
Being overweight leaves people susceptible to a variety of illnesses and conditions, and it also seems to increase a person’s risk for contracting colon cancer. To help decrease your odds, stay mindful of healthy weight management that is sustainable and wellness-focused.
As we mentioned earlier, the Black community tends to me more likely to develop colon cancer. This phenomenon still needs to be researched and understood, but it’s something to be aware of – especially if you’re in the ethnic group.
- High consumption of red and/or processed meats
Higher consumption of red and/or processed meats has been linked to colon cancer development. Because of this, healthcare professionals recommend that people limit their red and processed meat intake to twice a week.
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) causes colon lining inflammation, which increases a person’s risk for colon cancer. If you have IBS, you may want to pursue some colon cancer genetics to see where you risk might lie.
- Many polyps or history of polyps
If you have numerous polyps or advanced polyps, you might have an increased risk of developing colon cancer – especially if those polyps are located in the colon.
- Limited exercise
Limited physical activity leaves a person more susceptible to inflammation or lack of proper blood flow, which opens the body up to disease risk. To ward off the possible effects of colon cancer, it’s wise to remain healthy and active.
The main types of colon cancer genetic testing to pursue
A colonoscopy is the most common type of colon cancer test people rely on. It involves the endoscopic examination of the colon – and the distal part of the small bowel – with a CCD or fiber optic camera on a flexible tube that is passed through the anus.
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
This type of colon cancer test detects blood hidden within a person’s stool – findings you may not be able to see just by looking.
- Guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT)
Similarly to the FIT, the gFOBT also looks for blood in a person’s stool that might not be visible.
- Fecal test
A fecal DNA test not only looks for blood in stool, but also examines the body for signs of genetic mutations.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy
This colon cancer procedure involves a trained medical professional using a narrow, flexible tube with a tiny camera and light on it. The camera looks inside the body’s rectum and lower colon to examine for signs of infection.
- Virtual colonoscopy
Similar to a colonoscopy, a virtual colonoscopy looks for polyps, tumors, and ulcers in the colon and rectum with an X-ray.