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What is colon cancer?

Many of the most common cancers, including colon cancer, are believed to be inherited. Colon and rectal (colorectal) cancer is a family disease because we inherit certain "cancer genes" from our parents. But only a small number of colorectal cancers can be traced back to these inherited genetic changes. These changes account for fewer than 5% of all colorectal cases in the US.

Is colon cancer hereditary?

Colon cancer can be hereditary or non-hereditary. Understanding the difference is the first step in determining your likelihood of getting colon cancer. Family history is a major risk factor for colon cancer. If you have a parent, sibling, child, or grandparent with colon cancer you are at a higher risk for developing this type of cancer yourself.

According to studies done by Johns Hopkins University and other medical institutions, if one close family member has colorectal cancer then there is an increased risk that other members may get it too. This condition is known as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP). It is also called Familial Polyposis Colon Cancer (FPC) and signifies hereditary cancer syndrome. Individual colon cancers not associated with a family history are referred to as sporadic colon cancer.

The term "hereditary" can be confusing because scientists do not know exactly how many diseases are inherited, or passed from parent to child through genes. Cancer is one of them and is believed to be mostly non-hereditary. There is still no definitive answer as to what causes colon cancer and there seem to be several factors that play into the development of it such as age, diet, obesity, lack of exercise, environmental exposures, and more.

Talking with your doctor about your family history will help determine if you should consider genetic testing for the FAP gene mutation. This condition does have a high risk of developing colon cancer. It is important to understand that having the disease gene does not necessarily mean you will get colon cancer, but it is likely.

If your family history suggests that you are at increased risk of having the FAP gene mutation, then consult your doctor about genetic testing for this condition. Genetic tests can help determine if you have the FAP hereditary condition and therefore need to be on more regular screening exams or additional medical surveillance.

Although there are several forms of colon cancer, some are not considered hereditary because there is no specific gene linked to it. Researchers believe that most sporadic (non-hereditary) cases develop due to environmental factors like diet and lifestyle choices.

What is colon cancer treatment?

Screening exams such as colonoscopy or other tests as directed by your physician


The thing about colon cancer is that most people don't realize they have it until the condition is far too advanced to be treated. This means it isn't really hereditary, but rather that there are risk factors for developing this type of cancer. Some common risk factors include among others age, family history, diet, and certain types of medication use.

If you or someone you know has a blood relative who has been diagnosed with colon cancer younger than 50 years old, then the person in question may be at greater risk of getting colon cancer themselves. If you are over 50 years of age and have had more than 3 blood relatives get diagnosed before the age of 60, then your chances go up even further. That doesn't mean, however, that you should panic and go get a colonoscopy right this second.

Age is only one of many possible risk factors and does not in itself indicate that cancer is present or on the horizon. Living a healthy lifestyle (diet and exercise) and getting screened regularly will help lower your chances of developing colon cancer, regardless of age.

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