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Colon cancer can happen by chance, can be caused by environmental exposures, or can be caused by a mutation in a gene. When cancer happens by chance or environmental exposures we call it “sporadic.” About 60% of all colon cancers are sporadic.
Sometimes we see more colon cancers in a family than we would expect, but we aren’t exactly sure why. These men and women are usually older (after age 50-60) when they are first diagnosed with colon cancer and typically there is not a history of other types of cancer in the family. When we see families like this, we call it “familial” cancer. About 30% of all colon cancers fall into this category. These cancers may be caused by a combination of similar environments and exposures, or common genetic information. Other individuals in the family may also have an increased risk to develop colon cancer.
About 10 percent of colon cancer is caused by a genetic syndrome. Individuals with genetic syndromes have a mutation (or change) in a gene that causes them to be at increased for colon cancer. These mutations are typically inherited from either parent and can be passed on to children. People with genetic cancer syndromes may be at risk to develop other types of cancers as well. Learning if you have a cancer syndrome can help you understand your risk to develop cancer, your family’s risk to develop cancer, and potentially provide you with ways to reduce your cancer risk.
Yes. There are other types of gastrointestinal cancers that could be hereditary. Several hereditary cancer syndromes have increased risks for multiple cancers which may include different types of gastrointestinal cancers.
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