Family Health, Your Health Lindsay Guinaugh | 7 years ago

Understanding the Genetics of Colon Cancer

How much does your family history matter when it comes to colon cancer?

If you have family members who’ve been diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer, you have an early cancer warning system built in. And, you should heed the warning. You may have inherited a gene that causes the disease, and your risk of developing colon cancer is higher than the average person. It’s important to know your family history and if you have relatives who’ve had colon cancer or precancerous polyps. This knowledge can alert you to your risks of developing this potentially deadly form of cancer. If your parent, brother, sister or child has been diagnosed, you should have a colonoscopy at 40 instead of age 50, as recommended for the average person. Keep in mind, too, that you may need to get a colonoscopy sooner than 40 if your family member was diagnosed at a young age. For instance, if your mother was diagnosed at 45, then you should get a colonoscopy at 35.

Regular screenings can reduce your risk for developing colon cancer by up to 90 percent.

A colonoscopy can catch the cancer early when it is easiest to treat. During a colonoscopy, pre-cancerous polyps that would eventually become colon cancer, can be removed. When the cancerous polyps are found early, there is almost a 90 percent chance for a cure. Most people with colon cancer have no early signs or symptoms, which is why doctors strongly recommend colonoscopies. Your doctor may also refer you to genetic testing for cancer if you have a strong family history of two or more relatives with the same type of colon cancer. For more information about inherited cancer risk and cancer genetics screening, visit Levine Cancer Institute.