According to 2020 data from the European Cancer Information System (ECIS), colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer in men after prostate and lung cancers, and the second in women. Men have much greater rates of incidence than women – over a lifetime, 1 in 22 men and 1 in 35 women will develop colorectal cancer – and generally, the older a person is, the more they are at risk.

In this article, we will look at what colorectal cancer is, major risk factors, and some preventative measures that we can take to lower the risk of cancer.

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a species of cancer that forms in the colon or rectum of a human. These are portions of the large intestine in the human digestive system. It is one of the most often diagnosed cancers globally. It is a complicated disease process, with hereditary factors, environmental exposures (including nutrition), and inflammatory diseases of the digestive system all contributing to its genesis. Blood in the stool, changes in bowel motions, weight loss, and exhaustion are all possible signs and symptoms.

4 Major Risk Factors for CRC

The disease has several risk factors, including the below four major ones:


Age is a significant risk factor for CRC. Large bowel cancer is rare in people under the age of 40. The incidence rises dramatically between 40 and 50 years, and age-specific incidence rates rise in each subsequent decade. The ECIS states that more than 97% of people with colorectal cancer are over the age of 45 years. 

Colorectal cancer is a considerable concern in older persons, and individual decisions on whether to continue colorectal cancer screening for those over 75 years should be made in consultation with healthcare experts.


Genetics also have a significant impact on the development of colorectal cancers. Several genetic abnormalities are linked to an extremely high chance of developing colon cancer.

The most frequent familial colon cancer syndromes are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome, also known as (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer) (HNPCC). People with Lynch syndrome are at a significant risk of developing colorectal and other malignancies. Having a first-degree family (parent, sibling, or kid) with colorectal cancer also raises one’s risk, and if numerous family members are affected, the risk increases.


Some lifestyle factors have been linked to colorectal cancer, with more than half of all colorectal malignancies connected to modifiable risk factors. This includes the consumption of red and processed meats, which has been related to a raised risk. Diets lacking in fruits, vegetables, and fibre may also increase risk. Additionally, obesity, particularly extra fat around the waist, raises the risk of colorectal cancer. 

Other lifestyle factors include heavy alcohol and tobacco usage, while occupational exposures, such as long-term asbestos or chemical exposure, also raise the risk of colorectal cancer. Pollution and environmental contaminants may also play an impact.

People with certain other illnesses

Finally, people who have inflammatory bowel illness (ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease) are more likely to get colon cancer. The risk rises as a person’s condition progresses, and the intensity of inflammation worsens. This is because chronic inflammation caused by these disorders can cause alterations in the cells lining the gut, potentially leading to cancer growth over time. In this case, the duration and severity of inflammation raise the risk. The longer someone has IBD, especially if it is not well-controlled, the more likely they are to acquire colorectal cancer. 

Protective Factors for CRC

Despite the risks, there are several factors that are protective against colorectal cancer or can at least lower the risk of acquiring the illness. This involves lifestyle adjustments, regular screenings, and awareness of personal risk factors.

Having a healthy diet

Firstly, fibre-rich diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains have been linked to a decreased risk of colorectal cancer. Adequate calcium intake, whether via food or supplements, may also be beneficial. In addition, folate-rich foods, such as leafy greens, legumes, and fortified cereals, are linked to a decreased risk. 

Moderating alcohol intake and eliminating smoking

Consuming less alcohol has been linked to a decreased risk of colorectal cancer, and moderation is essential when taking to alcohol use. And as colorectal cancer risk is known to be increased by smoking, quitting smoking lowers can also help.

Regular cancer screenings

Though cancer is not entirely preventable due to a host of cause factors, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and identify early signs of illness. Biomarker testing can provide information on changes in your body through capturing irregular activity, and it is often used for early detection and monitoring of cancer. 

Screening techniques such as colonoscopies, sigmoidoscopies, and faecal occult blood tests (FOBT) can also detect and remove precancerous polyps before they become cancerous. Most guidelines recommend beginning regular screening between 45 and 50 years for people at average risk. In contrast, earlier and more frequent screening is recommended for those with more significant risk factors, such as a family history of cancer or a genetic predisposition.

Some final words

In conclusion, colorectal cancer is a very prevalent but potentially avoidable malignancy, as it is caused by a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental variables. Awareness, early diagnosis through screening, and lifestyle changes are critical in lowering cancer risk and improving outcomes for those with this condition. Regular engagement with healthcare specialists for tailored assistance is also vital for successful prevention and management.