Q: Isn't colon cancer genetic?
A: Colorectal cancer is the second most-common cancer in the United States, striking 140,000 people annually and causing 60,000 deaths. That's a staggering figure when you consider the disease is potentially curable if diagnosed in the early stages, typically with a colonoscopy. Colon cancer may run in some families, but in most cases there is no family history. Though it can occur at any age, more than 90 percent of the patients are over age 40, at which point the risk doubles every 10 years. Other high risk factors include a family history of colorectal cancer and polyps, and a personal history of ulcerative colitis, colon polyps or cancer of other organs, especially of the breast or uterus. Some genetic disorders increase the risk of colon cancer, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC). Physicians can test for these with blood or tissue samples from the first person diagnosed with colon cancer in a family, so that the other members can be tested and prevent colon cancer. Ask your colorectal surgeon or gastroenterologist for more details.
- Dr. Shauna Lorenzo-Rivero, colorectal surgeon, University Surgical Associates; member, Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society
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