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Colorectal Cancer: Learn the Risk Factors

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Colorectal Cancer: Learn the Risk Factors

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), among cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. About 1 in 25 people in the U.S.  will develop colon or rectal cancer at some point during their lifetime, but there are things you can do to help lower your risk. Learn the risk factors that are within your control.  

Lifestyle-related risk factors that you can control: 

Diet and Weight 

If you’re overweight or obese, your risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer is higher. Although being overweight raises the risk of colon and rectal cancer in both men and women, but the link seems to be higher in men. A diet high in red meat, such as beef, pork, lamb, or liver, and processed meats, such as hot dogs and some deli meats, raises your risk of getting colorectal cancer. To lower your risk, it is best to follow a healthy eating diet that includes fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while limiting or avoiding red and processed meats, and sugary drinks.   


If you’re not physically active, you have a greater risk of developing colon cancer. Regular physical activity can help lower your risk.  

Smoking and Alcohol Use 

People who have smoked tobacco for a long time are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colorectal cancer.[1] Alcohol use is also a major risk factor. Although colorectal cancer has been predominately linked to moderate to heavy alcohol use, even light-to-moderate alcohol intake has been associated with some risk.[1]  

Risk factors that you cannot control:  


As you age, your risk of colorectal cancer increases. Although colorectal cancer is rising among people who are younger than age 50, it is much more common in adults over the age of 50.[1]  

A personal history of colorectal polyps or cancer 

If you have a history of adenomatous polyps (adenomas), you have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.[1] If you’ve had colorectal cancer, even if it was completely removed, you now have a greater risk of developing new cancers in other parts of the colon and rectum.[1] If you have inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), including either ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, your risk of colorectal cancer is increased.[1]   

Having type 2 diabetes 

People with type 2 (usually non-insulin dependent) diabetes have an increased risk of colorectal cancer. Both type 2 diabetes and colorectal cancer share some of the same risk factors (such as being overweight and physical inactivity).  

A family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps 

Many colorectal cancers are found in people with no family history of colorectal cancer, but as many as one in three people who develop colorectal cancer have relatives who have had it.[1] Those with a history of colorectal cancer in a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) are at greater risk.[1] The risk is even higher if that relative was diagnosed when they were younger than 50, or if more than one first-degree relative is affected.[1]  

To read more about risk factors that you cannot control, click here.   

Changing some of your lifestyle habits related to diet, weight and exercise, and getting regular screenings may lower your risk for colorectal cancer. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that adults age 50 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. There are several screening test options. Talk with your doctor about which is right for you. 

The Foreign Service Benefit Plan (FSBP) covers colorectal cancer screening at 100%, no deductible, when you visit an in- network provider in the U.S. For overseas members, it also is covered at 100%, no deductible, when you see any provider outside the U.S.   

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