Knowing Risk Factors Can Prevent Colon Cancer Make an Appointment Ask a Question Search Conditions Colorectal cancer is the third largest cancer killer in the United States, killing an estimated 50,000 people every year, according to the American Cancer Society. It doesn't have to be that way. Early detection can reduce the colon-cancer death toll through prevention and treatment. Regular colonoscopies can catch colon polyps before they have a chance to turn into cancer. People with no identified risk factors should begin regular colonoscopies at age 50. Those who have risk factors for colon cancer should be screened earlier and more frequently. Read through the following risk factors for colorectal cancer, which suggest earlier and more frequent detection efforts: Family history. Colon cancer is known to be passed down genetically; if your family has a history of colon cancer, it is important that you get screened in your 40s. Race. The highest incidence and death rates of colon cancer are seen in African Americans. Dr. Hanna recommends that all African Americans, both men and women, begin screening for colon cancer at age 45. Smoking. Mounting evidence suggests that smoking increases the risk of colon cancer. Diet. Studies show that diets that are heavy in red and processed meats and low in fruits, vegetables, and grains are associated with a higher incidence of colon cancer. Lifestyle. People who exercise regularly seem to have a decreased risk of colon cancer. Conversely, inactive lifestyles may be associated with an increased risk. Learn about colonoscopy, including how to get ready for the test, what is done during the test, and how long it will take. This information has been approved by Phillip Hanna, MD (July 2010).