Is Colon Cancer Hereditary?
While colon cancer (or colorectal cancer as it is also known) is not a hereditary disease, studies show that if there is a history of this cancer in the family, a person has an increased chance of contracting the disease.
What Causes Cancer?
Because of the global prevalence of the disease and how serious a condition it is, cancer is one of the most highly researched of all medical disorders. While there is no cure as yet for cancer, treatment protocols are becoming more effective and the possibility of recovering from the disease is constantly increasing.
Researchers have identified several factors that may increase a person’s risk of getting colon cancer but it is still not clear how these factors lead to the development of the disease. DNA is a chemical in the cells of the human body that makes up the genes, which control how the cells function. Cancer is caused by changes in the DNA inside the cells. When DNA mutates, it causes the genes to change. Some genes help cells grow and regenerate and these are called oncogenes. The genes that control the division of cells or which cause cells to die at the correct time are known as “tumour suppressor genes”. If DNA mutations cause the oncogenes or the tumour suppressor genes to malfunction, cell growth becomes uncontrolled and this in turn could lead to the development of colon and other types of cancer.
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Inherited Gene Mutations
There are several inherited gene mutations that could cause the formation of cancers. A very small percentage of colon cancers are caused by inherited gene mutations. Among the inherited conditions, the most common are:
- Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), attenuated FAP (AFAP) and Gardner syndrome are caused by changes to the APC (tumour suppressor) gene. When the APC gene is affected, cell growth can become uncontrolled. Over time, these cells may turn into polyps in the colon and one or more of the polyps could become cancerous.
- MUTYH-associated polyposis (MAP) is caused by mutations in the MUTYH gene which normally acts to check and fix problems with the division of genes.
- Peutz-Jeghers syndrome occurs when there is an inherited change in the STK11 gene which works, when healthy, to suppress unwanted cell growth.
- Among the most common cases of inherited colon cancer is a genetic condition known as Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer or HNPCC). About 3% of all colon cancer cases are due to Lynch Syndrome. Men with this condition have an increased risk of getting colon cancer, especially at a younger age (50 and below). Women with Lynch syndrome have an increased risk of getting uterine (endometrial) cancer. People with Lynch syndrome also have an increased risk of contracting other forms of cancer like skin, brain, liver, kidney, stomach and ovarian cancer. Lynch syndrome is hereditary and the parents, children, brothers and sisters of someone who has it have a 50% greater chance of developing colon cancer. More distant relatives have a reduced but still above-average risk of getting colon cancer.
Acquired Gene Mutations
While the possibility of hereditary causes of colon cancer cannot be ignored, most gene mutations that result in the development of colon cancer are acquired mutations. This means that the mutations occur during the patient’s lifetime and are not caused by hereditary influences. Any cancer caused by acquired gene mutations will not be passed on to the patient’s children. These changes to the genes cannot be monitored or controlled.
Colon Cancer Risk Factors That Can Be Controlled
The development of cancer is the result of gene mutation, which is not possible to control. That being said, several factors within human control may reduce the possibility of such gene changes occurring and so reduce the risk of getting colon cancer. These include:
- Many colon cancer patients are obese or overweight. Weight control will help in reducing the chances of colon cancer as well as preventing many other chronic health conditions.
- Not being physically active. Regular physical activity will decrease the likelihood of colon cancer.
- A diet that contains lots of red and processed meats is known to increase the risk of colon cancer. Some research suggests that cooking meats at very high temperatures such as grilling, deep frying and broiling, may cause cancer-causing chemicals to form in the food.
- Vitamin deficiencies, especially vitamin D, may increase cancer risk.
- Although smoking is a well-known cause of lung cancer, it can also contribute to the development of colon and other cancers.
- Research suggests that excessive alcohol consumption may be linked to colon cancer.
Also Read: Can Lung Cancer Be Diagnosed Without a Biopsy?
There is not a single path to colon cancer. It could be the result of hereditary factors or, more likely, it could develop because of changes to genes that happen during the patient’s lifetime. Research suggests that the most frequent changes are to the APC gene, whether it is hereditary or acquired. When the APC gene mutates, cell growth becomes uncontrolled and that is a leading cause of cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with colon cancer or suspect that you may be suffering from this disease, prompt action is essential to recovery. The diagnosis must be confirmed at a multispecialty hospital with a world-class oncology department. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, state-of-the-art treatment protocols will be available to maximize the chances of recovery. Cancer is a very serious disease, but it is no longer an automatically fatal one. Specialized treatment is the key to recovery.
Even if you have no symptoms of colon cancer, it is a good idea to have a regular medical check-up that will identify any signs of colon or other cancers at an early stage.
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