Top 10 Causes of Colon Cancer

In this article, we will discuss some of the leading causes of colon cancer and what you can do to protect yourself from this potentially deadly condition.

Colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancer, affecting both men and women. This year, the American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 153,020 cases of colorectal cancer in the U.S. and 52, 550 will die from it.

While several factors can contribute to the development of this disease, it is essential to understand its root causes to reduce your risk. 

Also see: Can Stress Cause Cancer and Can Fibroids Be Cancerous.

Image showing colon cancer in colon on white background

What is Colon Cancer?

Colon cancer, often referred to as colorectal cancer, is a type of cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. The colon is the large intestine, which is vital in absorbing water and nutrients from food before it is eliminated as waste. The rectum is the passage that connects the colon to the anus.

Colon cancer typically develops when abnormal cells grow uncontrollably in the lining of the colon or rectum. Over time, these abnormal cells can form tumors that can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.

Colon cancer often begins as non-cancerous polyps or growths that develop on the inner lining of the colon. If not removed, some of these polyps can turn cancerous.

For this reason, regular screening is often recommended for adults of a certain age. Screening can also help detect the disease at an early stage when treatment is more likely to work. 

According to The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (Task Force), adults between 45-75 years should be screened for colorectal cancer, while those 76-85 years should talk to their doctor.

Common Causes of Colon Cancer:

There are numerous risk factors that can increase your risk of colon cancer, including:

 A. Lifestyle Choices

1. A diet high in red meat

According to the National Cancer Institute, researchers have identified a common pattern of DNA damage in people with colorectal cancer that eat a lot of red meat.

Red meat includes beef, pork, lamb, goat, and other land animals. 

When these meats are cooked at high temperatures or grilled, they produce chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

These chemicals have been shown to cause changes in DNA (mutagenic) that can lead to the development of cancer cells.

Additionally, red meat is high in saturated fats, which can contribute to inflammation and damage to the lining of the colon over time. 

This makes it easier for harmful substances like bacteria or toxins to enter your bloodstream, causing further inflammation, which can lead to colon cancer.

Research suggests that eating more than 12 to 18 ounces of red meat per week increases the risk of colorectal cancer.

Besides red meat, processed meat is another common culprit that has been shown to cause cancer.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has classified processed meat as a Group 1 carcinogen, meaning it is known to cause cancer in humans. This includes meats that have been smoked, cured, or preserved with chemicals such as nitrates or nitrites.

Studies have shown that people who consume large amounts of processed meat are more likely to develop colon cancer than those who eat little or none at all. 

According to the World Health Organization, data from 10 studies showed that consuming 50 grams of processed meat daily increases your risk of colon cancer. 

To lower this risk, consider incorporating more plant-based alternatives like tofu to help boost your health and well-being.

2. Low-fiber foods

Fiber plays a crucial role in maintaining digestive health and regular bowel movements. 

When you consume a diet low in fiber, it can lead to constipation, which means food stays in the colon for longer periods. 

This delayed emptying can contribute to prolonged exposure to toxins and waste products. In turn, this can damage the lining of the colon and increase the risk of developing cancerous growths.

Moreover, high-fiber foods help reduce gut inflammation and promote healthy bacteria growth. These factors are essential for preventing disease development. How Much Fiber Per Day?

3. Processed foods

Processed foods refer to any food item that has undergone some form of chemical or mechanical processing before it reaches your plate. These include packaged snacks, canned goods, fast food items, frozen meals, and sugary drinks.

Processed foods contain high levels of unhealthy ingredients such as sugar, too much salt, trans fats, preservatives, and artificial colors and flavors. These chemicals can cause inflammation, which is a leading risk factor for developing colon cancer.

Additionally, processed foods often lack fiber, which is important for maintaining digestive health. Fiber helps move waste through the intestines quickly and efficiently, reducing exposure time to carcinogens that may be present in your gut. Also see How To Avoid Processed Foods!

4. Sedentary lifestyle 

A sedentary lifestyle is characterized by prolonged periods of sitting or inactivity. This type of lifestyle has become increasingly common in recent years due to changes in work patterns, technological advancements, and urbanization. 

Unfortunately, this shift towards a more inactive lifestyle has been linked to numerous health problems, including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and colon cancer.

Several studies have linked a sedentary lifestyle with an increased risk of developing colon cancer.

One study found that sedentary behavior characterized by time spent on TV, work-related sitting time, and total sitting time was associated with a 54%, 24%, and 24% increased risk of developing colon cancer, respectively.

A sedentary lifestyle has also been linked with other factors contributing to colon cancer, such as obesity and insulin resistance. 

Another study found that individuals who participated in regular physical activity reduced their risk for colorectal cancer by up to 40%-50%. 

Physical activity decreases inflammation, improves insulin sensitivity, and reduces obesity – all factors associated with an increased risk for colon cancer.

Moreover, a sedentary lifestyle changes gut microbiota composition and function, which may contribute to the development of gastrointestinal conditions.

To prevent colon cancer from occurring, it’s important you incorporate some form of exercise into your daily routine. For example, walking, swimming, biking, or jogging every day for at least 30 minutes can help.

You could also try using a standing desk while working and try taking breaks between long periods spent sitting. Benefits Of Cardiovascular Exercise

5. Alcohol consumption 

Several studies have confirmed that chronic alcohol intake can result in colorectal polyps and cancer formation. 

For instance, a study published by the National Cancer Institute found that heavy alcohol use increased the risk of colon and rectum cancers by 1.2-1.5 more compared to those that do not drink. How To Quit Drinking Alcohol?

6. Smoking

Research shows that smokers are more likely to develop colon cancer than non-smokers. 

In fact, data from 106 observational studies show that smokers are 18% more likely to develop colorectal cancer than people who have never smoked.

The reason for this increased risk is due to the harmful chemicals found in cigarettes. Tobacco smoke contains at least 70 known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents), which can damage DNA and lead to mutations that contribute to the development of colon cancer.

Furthermore, smoking also increases inflammation in the body, which can promote cancer growth. The nicotine in tobacco products can also affect how cells grow and divide, contributing further to the development and progression of cancer.

Quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risk of developing colon cancer and other types of cancers and health issues related to smoking. 

Even if you’ve been smoking for years, quitting now will still provide significant health benefits. Dangers Of Smoking

7. Medical conditions

One of the most common medical conditions that can cause colon cancer is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). 

IBD is a chronic condition that causes inflammation in the digestive tract, which can damage the cells lining the colon and increase your risk of developing cancer. 

Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are two types of IBD that have been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.

Type 2 diabetes and obesity have also been linked to an increased risk of developing colon cancer. This is because people with type 2 diabetes or who are overweight have higher levels of insulin and other hormones, which can encourage the growth and spread of tumor cells in the colon.

It is important to note that having any one or more than one medical condition does not necessarily mean you will develop colon cancer. 

However, due to the increased risk, unlike someone without the conditions, it’s always good to work on losing weight and maintaining your glucose levels as stable as possible.

B. Environmental Factors

8. Exposure to carcinogens such as asbestos or dioxins 

Carcinogens are substances that can potentially cause cancer by altering the DNA in cells, leading to uncontrolled growth and division.

Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was widely used in construction and manufacturing industries until it was banned in many countries due to its harmful effects on health. 

When asbestos fibers are released into the air, they can be easily inhaled or swallowed. This can lead to serious health problems like lung cancer, mesothelioma, and colon cancer.

Dioxins, on the other hand, are a group of toxic chemicals that form as byproducts during certain industrial processes, such as waste incineration and pesticide production. 

They can also be found in some high-fat foods like meat, dairy products, and fish. 

Exposure to high levels of dioxins can increase the risk of several types of cancers, including colon cancer.

Both asbestos and dioxins are carcinogens that can cause DNA damage which can lead to mutations that trigger the development of cancer cells. 

C. Genetic Factors

Genetics is one of the most significant factors that can increase an individual’s likelihood of developing this disease.

There are two types of genetic factors that cause colon cancer: hereditary and acquired.

9. Hereditary factors

Hereditary colon cancer occurs due to changes (mutations) in certain genes that run in families. 

Some inherited gene mutations directly cause colon cancer, while others increase the risk of developing it. 

The following are some genetic syndromes that can lead to an increased risk for colon cancer:

Lynch Syndrome

Lynch syndrome, also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), is the most common cause of hereditary colon cancer. 

It accounts for 2-4% of all colorectal cancer cases and is caused by mutations in DNA mismatch repair genes.

Individuals who have this condition have an 80% chance of developing colorectal cancer and up to 60% of developing endometrial cancer during their lifetime.

They also have a higher risk of developing other cancers like gastric, ovarian, small bowel, pancreatic, and brain cancers at a younger age (before 50).

Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP)

FAP is a rare genetic disorder characterized by the development of hundreds or thousands of polyps inside the colon and rectum. If left untreated, these polyps could turn into cancer.

MUTYH-Associated Polyposis (MAP)

MAP is another rare genetic disorder. It is caused by a mutation in both copies of the MUTYH gene, which normally helps repair DNA damage caused by oxidative stress.

Individuals with MAP inherit one mutated copy of the MUTYH gene from each parent. This results in decreased DNA repair ability and increased susceptibility to DNA damage. 

This can lead to multiple polyps (abnormal growths) forming in the colon, which can develop into cancer over time if left untreated.

10. Acquired factors

Acquired genetic mutations occur spontaneously within cells over time due to errors during cell division or exposure to environmental factors like tobacco or radiation exposure leading to cell damage.

Tips to Prevent Colon Cancer:

While colon cancer may be inevitable for some, lowering your risk factors by eliminating some of the causes of colon cancer is definitely possible.

  • Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Limit or avoid alcohol consumption
  • Schedule regular screenings: Colonoscopy screening is essential for detecting early signs of colon cancer before it becomes advanced.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get enough sleep: Lack of sleep may lead to obesity and other health problems that could increase your risk.

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Final Thoughts

Colon cancer is a complex disease that has several contributing factors. 

While some of these factors are not controllable, such as age and family history, others are preventable through lifestyle changes. 

A healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables is one way to lower your risk. Engaging in regular exercise and avoiding tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption are other changes that can lower your risk.

Early detection through screening tests is also crucial for successful treatment outcomes. 

By understanding the Causes of Colon Cancer and taking preventative measures, you can actively reduce your risk of this condition.

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