Colon Cancer Home > Causes of Rectal Cancer

The exact causes of rectal cancer have not yet been identified. However, scientists have determined that certain factors increase the chances of developing the disease. These risk factors are not causes of rectal cancer; not everyone with risk factors will get the disease. Risk factors for rectal cancer include being 50 years of age or older, having a family history of colon or rectal cancer, and a personal history of polyps in the colon or rectum. Changes in certain genes also increase the risk of developing rectal cancer, but they account for only a small percentage of cases.

Causes of Rectal Cancer: An Overview

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

Causes of Rectal Cancer: Know the Risk Factors

Research has shown that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop rectal cancer. A risk factor is anything that is linked to an increased chance of developing a disease.
Studies have identified the following risk factors for rectal cancer:
  • Age (being 50 years of age or older)
  • A family history of colon or rectal cancer
  • A personal history of any of the following cancers:
o Rectal cancer
  • A history of polyps in the colon or rectum
  • A history of ulcerative colitis (ulcers in the lining of the large intestine) or Crohn's disease
  • Certain hereditary conditions, such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (also known as HNPCC or Lynch Syndrome).
While these risk factors are not causes of rectal cancer, they do make a person more likely to develop the disease.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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