March is colon cancer awareness month. Colon or colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among men and women in the United States. It is estimated that over 135,000 new cases are diagnosed each year. A colorectal cancer diagnosis, like all cancer diagnoses, can bring up many emotions. If you or your loved one has been recently diagnosed with colorectal cancer you might be wondering, How could this happen? Does this mean other family members have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer too?
There are several factors that might place you at a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer. Some of which include, being over the age of 50, smoking, obesity, high alcohol consumption, and/or a diet rich in red or processed meats. Another risk factor is genetics.
Up to 5% of colorectal cancers are attributed to an inherited disorder known as Lynch syndrome. If you have a family history of colorectal, endometrial (uterine), ovarian, or stomach cancer, it may be helpful to talk to your doctor about genetic counseling. A genetic counselor will help you determine if you or other family members should consider genetic testing for Lynch syndrome. This condition increases your risk of getting not just colorectal cancer, but also the other types of cancers listed above.
Deciding to find out if you have a genetic mutation, which makes you more susceptible to certain types of cancer, can be frightening. But remember, this mutation does not always mean that you will develop cancer. Nevertheless, being aware of such a mutation could help you make more informed decisions about medical treatment. With this information, and together with your doctor, you can develop a plan to increase your chances of early detection.
For more information on Lynch syndrome check out the Cancer Support Community’s Frankly Speaking About Cancer: Lynch Syndrome fact sheet.