Who's at Risk for Colon Cancer?

Actor Chadwick Boseman died from colon cancer at just 43.

actor Chadwick Boseman
Chadwick Boseman was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2016. Getty Images for MTV / Getty Images

Actor Chadwick Boseman, 43, died in late August from colon cancer. Colon and rectal cancers (called colorectal cancer) are the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the U.S. in both men and women, outside of skin cancers, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in either the colon or the rectum. It is often called colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer originates.

Boseman was diagnosed with stage III colon cancer in 2016, battling the disease for four years as it progressed to stage IV, his family said in a statement. He has had many well-loved and critically acclaimed roles, but was probably best known for playing the iconic hero in "Black Panther."

Although the rate at which people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the U.S. is dropping in middle aged and older people, more younger people are surfacing with the disease. According to a March 2020 report published in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians, 12% of colorectal cancer cases will be diagnosed in people under 50 in 2020. Rates have been increasing since the mid-1980s in adults 20 to 39 years old and since the mid-1990s in people 40 to 54 years old.

Rates of new diagnoses are about 20% higher in Black men and women than non-Hispanic white men and women. Death rates from the disease are almost 40% higher in Blacks. Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) have one of the highest colorectal cancer risks in the world, according to the ACS. 

Colorectal cancer rates fell in people 50 and older over the past 20 years primarily because more people were getting the recommended screening tests.

Who Is At Risk for Colon Cancer?

There are some risk factors you can't change, but some lifestyle choices that may have an impact on the disease. Studies have shown that these are some of the most common risk factors, reports the ACS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Being older — About 90% of cases occur in people over 50.
  • History of inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Family history of colorectal polyps
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Certain inherited syndromes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Race or ethnicity
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol use

Can Colorectal Cancer Be Prevented?

It's not possible to definitely prevent colorectal cancer, but these lifestyle changes might help lower your risk – and some may benefit the environment, as well.

Get screened — The ACS recommends regular screening starting at age 45 to look for abnormal cells. There are several types of screenings including colonoscopy and stool tests.

Eat healthy — Eat a well-rounded diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in red and processed meats. Studies have found that limiting the amount of red meat and increasing the amount of fiber may have an impact on the chances of developing colorectal cancer or surviving the disease.

Keep moving — Make sure you get regular exercise and limit the amount of time you spend sitting.

Watch your weight — Staying at a healthy weight may help lower your risk. Obesity is a risk factor for the disease.