Family history and colorectal cancer: predictors of risk


Introduction: While the association between family history of colorectal cancer in first-degree relatives and risk of developing colon cancer has been well defined, the association with rectal cancer is much less clear. The purpose of this study is to define rectal cancer risk associated with family history of colorectal cancer in first-degree relatives. We also evaluate diet and lifestyle factors associated with developing colorectal cancer among participants with a positive family history. Methods: Data were available from two population-based case–control studies of colon and rectal cancer. Participants were members of the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program (KPMCP) or residents of the state of Utah. Cases were first primary colon cancer diagnosed between 1991 and 1994 (n = 1308 cases and 1544 controls) or rectal cancer diagnosed between 1997 and 2001 (n = 952 cases and 1205 controls). Results: A family history of colorectal cancer in any first-degree relatives slightly increased risk of rectal cancer (OR: 1.37 95% CI: 1.02–1.85). Family history of colorectal cancer was associated with the greatest risk among those diagnosed at age 50 or younger (OR: 2.09 95% CI: 0.94–4.65 for rectal tumors; OR: 3.00 95% CI: 0.98–9.20 for distal colon tumors; and OR: 7.88 95% CI: 2.62–23.7 for proximal colon tumors). Factors significantly associated with cancer risk among those with a family history of colorectal cancer, included not having a sigmoidoscopy (OR: 2.81 95% CI: 1.86–4.24); a diet not Prudent, i.e. high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and poultry, (OR: 2.79 95% CI: 1.40–5.56); smoking cigarettes (OR: 1.68 95% CI: 1.12–2.53), and eating a Western diet, i.e. a diet high in meat, refined grains, high-fat foods, and fast foods, (OR: 2.15 95% CI: 1.06–4.35). Physical inactivity was not associated with increased cancer risk among those with a positive family history of colorectal cancer. Summary: These results confirm observations reported by others that a family history of colorectal cancer increases risk of cancer among those diagnosed at a younger age. Associations with family history are weakest for rectal cancer and strongest for proximal colonic tumors. Since several diet and lifestyle factors influence development of cancer among those with a family history of the disease, there appears to be practical approaches for individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer to reduce their cancer risk.

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Correspondence to M.L. Slattery.

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Slattery, M., Levin, T., Ma, K. et al. Family history and colorectal cancer: predictors of risk. Cancer Causes Control 14, 879–887 (2003).

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  • aspirin
  • BMI
  • cigarettes
  • colorectal cancer
  • diet
  • family history
  • physical activity
  • sigmoidoscopy