Colon Cancer Home > Causes of Colon Cancer

Although researchers have not identified a specific colon cancer cause, they have found several risk factors for the disease, such as being over age 50, having colon polyps, smoking, and eating a high-fat, low-fiber diet. These risk factors may not cause the disease, but they do increase a person's chance of developing it.

What Causes Colon Cancer?

No one knows the exact causes of colon cancer. Doctors can seldom explain why one person develops the disease and another does not. However, it is clear that colon cancer is not contagious. No one can "catch" this disease from another person.

Know the Risk Factors

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop colon cancer. A risk factor is anything that is linked to an increased chance of developing a disease.
Studies have discovered the following risk factors for colon cancer:
  • Age (colon cancer is more likely to occur as people get older)
  • Colon polyps or rectal polyps 
  • Family history of colon cancer
  • Genetics
  • Personal history of colon cancer
  • Certain medical conditions, like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease
  • Certain diets (such as diets that are high in fat and low in fiber, calcium, and folate)
  • Smoking.
While these risk factors are not proven colon cancer causes, they do make a person more likely to develop the disease.
Colon cancer is more likely to occur as people get older. More than 90 percent of people with this disease are diagnosed after age 50. The average age at diagnosis is in the mid-60s.
Colon Polyps
Polyps are growths on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. They are common in people over age 50. Most polyps are benign (noncancerous), but some polyps (adenomas) can turn into cancer. Finding and removing polyps may reduce the risk of colon cancer.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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