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Genetic Factors and Colorectal Cancer: Understanding the Role of Family History

Friday, March 1, 2024


If it is time to schedule your colorectal screening, learn why your physician encourages you to make an appointment as soon as possible.

If you’ve been tuning in to the news lately, you may have seen colorectal cancer in the headlines. More people are being diagnosed at a younger age — a trend that’s been on the rise for some time now. While the precise cause remains undetermined, we do know that genetics play a role. Here’s what you should understand about colorectal cancer, family history, and how the two are linked.

Colorectal Cancer & Family History: What’s the Connection?

As with most types of cancer, there’s no single, established cause for all colorectal cancers, though researchers have identified certain conditions that can increase your risk. Lifestyle factors like smoking and alcohol use are some examples that can be controlled, but having a family history of colorectal cancer is an important risk factor we unfortunately can’t change.

As many as 1 in 3 cases are diagnosed in people with family members who have either also had the illness, or have had an adenomatous polyp (a type of growth that can become cancerous). If you have a first-degree relative who has had either of these conditions, your risk is considered elevated. And your risk will be higher if they were diagnosed before the age of 50, or if you have more than one first-degree relative who has been diagnosed.

In a small number of cases, colorectal cancer is attributed to inherited gene mutations that cause family cancer syndromes. Lynch syndrome — also known as hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer — and familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) are two examples of these. A few other, less commonly inherited conditions that could also raise your risk, so knowing your family history is extremely helpful to your doctor.

What to Do if You Have a Family History of Colorectal Cancer

It can be alarming to discover any family history of colorectal cancer, and how it increases your risk. There are several bits of good news, however. For one, having this knowledge can help us take a proactive approach against the disease. You may be encouraged to start getting screened earlier, for instance. And here’s another upside: tests are available to not only catch cancer early, but prevent it from developing in the first place.

You have two options when it comes to colorectal cancer screening. First, stool-based tests, analyze your stool for signs of cancer. Visual exams, such as a colonoscopy, are also used to look for polyps or signs of cancer in your colon.

Colonoscopies for Colorectal Cancer

A colonoscopy requires preparation (you’ll need to clear your bowels for an unobstructed view) and sedation. But this testing method can often show your colon in its entirety. Plus, your doctor may even be able to remove polyps during the procedure, before they have the chance to become cancerous. While stool tests are quicker and more simple, they need to be repeated at more frequent intervals and could miss some polyps or cancers.

People with an average risk of colorectal cancer typically begin screenings at the age of 45, but there are currently no established screening recommendations for people with a higher risk. If you have one or more family members who have had colorectal cancer, talk to our providers. We’ll help you determine when and how often to get screened. You may be also advised to see a genetic counselor, who can help you decide if genetic testing is worthwhile. But even if genetic testing isn’t advised, you may still be encouraged to begin screening earlier.

Your Path Colorectal Health with SouthCoast Health

While colorectal cancer is a serious illness, SouthCoast Health is here for you when it comes to prevention, early detection, and treatment for this disease. Your primary care physician can help monitor any conditions that might require additional screening. Our surgeons bring years of experience in procedures for colon and rectal conditions. Schedule an appointment online or by calling 912.691.3600 to learn more about your options.

Whether you are looking for a primary care doctor or a pediatrician, or another medical specialist, SouthCoast Health has you covered with its wide range of world-class healthcare services, available throughout the Coastal Empire and Lowcountry. SouthCoast Health has 120 physicians and medical professionals in 18 locations in Savannah, Richmond Hill, Pooler, Rincon, Baxley, Hilton Head, Hinesville, and Statesboro. SouthCoast Health offers comprehensive medical services including: Family Medicine, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Allergy and Asthma, Cardiology, Endocrinology, Eye Care, Imaging, Infectious Diseases, Nephrology, Neurology, Physical Therapy, Podiatry, Surgery, Clinical Trial Research Studies, Diabetic Self-Management Training Sessions, Dietetic Counseling, Laboratory Services, Massage Therapy, Optical Shop, Pharmacy, and Urgent Care.

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