Colon Cancer: What are the Risk Factors?

For most people, colon cancer screening should start at age 50, as cancer risk rises most after this age. However, Boseman’s untimely death at age 43, after being diagnosed at age 39, highlights two concerning trends: increasing rates of colon cancer in younger people and African Americans.

  • Rates in people aged 20-39 have slowly been rising over the past decade, about 1-2% per year. (Colon cancer is still considered uncommon in younger people, however.) Reasons for the rise are unclear, but likely include a combination of genetic and lifestyle factors.
  • African-Americans (along with Hispanic-Latino populations) have the highest incidence of colon cancer, and are unfortunately more likely to die from the disease. This is partly explained by lower screening rates in minority groups, which results in finding the disease at later stages.

For these reasons, there are some people who do need to be screened earlier than age 50. Talk to your doctor if you want to know when to be screened and belong to any of these groups:

  • Anyone who has family members (first- or second-degree relatives) with a history of breast, colon, endometrial, or ovarian cancer.
  • Anyone with a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease (like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis).