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What Causes Colon Cancer?

Colorectal cancer usually begins as a noncancerous growth called a polyp that develops on the inner lining of the colon or rectum and grows slowly, over a period of 10 to 20 years. While most polyps do not actually turn into cancer, the ones that are most likely to are called adenomatous polyps or adenomas. Large polyps (greater than one centimeter), polyps that contain abnormal cells (called dysplastic polyps), and having two or more polyps within the colon also increases the likelihood for colon cancer.

Finding and removing precancerous polyps can prevent colorectal cancer. Polyps are most easily found during a colonoscopy because they usually bulge into the colon, forming a mound on the wall of the colon that can be found by the doctor.

The exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known, but certain risk factors are strongly linked to the disease, including diet, tobacco smoking and heavy alcohol use. Also, people with certain hereditary cancer syndromes or a family history of colorectal cancer have a high risk of developing the disease.

There are many risk factors you can manage to help reduce your risk of colon cancer.

  • Weight – Being overweight or obese increases your risk for colon cancer in both men and women.
  • Physical Activity – Increasing your level of activity lowers your risk of colon cancer.
  • Diet – Overall, diets that are high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains (and low in red and processed meats) have been linked with lower colorectal cancer risk.
  • Alcohol – Avoiding excess alcohol may help reduce your risk.
  • Tobacco – Quitting smoking may help lower you risk of colorectal cancer and many other types of cancer, too.

Can Colorectal Cancer Be Prevented?

Get Screened!  Getting regular screening tests for colon cancer is the single best way to protect yourself from the disease. It can catch cancer early, when it’s most treatable, and help prevent the disease by finding abnormal growths called polyps that can turn into cancer. A polyp can take as many as 10 to 15 years to develop into cancer. With screening, doctors can find and remove polyps before they have the chance to turn into cancer.

Patients have a 90 percent five-year survival rate when colorectal cancer is found at an early stage but just a 14 percent when cancer is found in an advanced stage and has spread to distant organs.


Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio (GCSA) accepts most insurances, including HMO, PPO, Medicare and Medicaid plans.

Colonoscopies typically receive excellent insurance coverage, and we accept a wide variety of plans to make screening for colorectal cancer affordable for as many people as possible. However, your plan may still require some out-of-pocket contribution. We offer CareCredit® and in-house financing to make sure you can access this important procedure. To learn more about insurance and financial policies, visit our FAQ.

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