What increases my risk of bowel cancer?

Basket of fresh vegetables

These risk factors increase your chance of developing bowel cancer: 

  • Age: Most people who get bowel cancer are over 50.
  • Previous cancer: If you have had a previous bowel cancer.
  • Family history of bowel cancer: If a member of your immediate family (mother, father, brother, sister or child) or a number of relatives (uncle, aunt) on the same side of the family has had bowel cancer, or if an immediate family member was diagnosed with bowel cancer at a young age, under 45.
  • Inherited bowel conditions: If you or someone in your family have or had an inherited bowel condition such as FAP and HNPCC. FAP stands for familial adenomatous polyposis; HNPCC is hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (also called Lynch syndrome).
  • Other bowel conditions: If you have a history of a bowel condition such as benign polyps, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
  • Obesity: If you are obese (overweight).
  • Diet: A diet high in fat and red meat and low in fibre, fruit and vegetables can increase your risk of bowel cancer. Drinking alcohol to excess and smoking may increase the risk for some people.

Having a risk factor doesn’t mean you will definitely get cancer. Sometimes people with no risk factors get the disease. If you’re worried, talk to your GP or talk to one of our cancer nurses. Call the Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre. 

If there is a history of bowel cancer in your family, your family may be offered genetic testing. This can check for inherited gene changes that may increase the risk of cancer or other conditions. Discuss this with your doctor. 

Reducing your risk of bowel cancer

The most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of bowel cancer is to:

  • Take part in the national BowelScreen screening programme.
  • Keep a healthy weight for your height.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Avoid processed meats, red meat and fatty foods. Eat more fibre, fruit and vegetables. Read more about a healthy diet.
  • Stop smoking and stay within the low-risk limits for alcohol.

For more information

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1800 200 700

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