Family History’s Impact on Your Colorectal Cancer Risk


Two women looking at a photo album and talking

Many health conditions are influenced by our lifestyle, as well as genetic components. When it comes to colorectal cancer, your family’s history with the disease can influence your own.

“Family history is an important tool for understanding one’s own risk for developing colorectal cancer,” explains Laura Johnson MS, CGC, a genetic counselor with Munson Healthcare’s Oncology Support Services. “Individuals with a family history or other known risk factors might benefit from screening at an earlier age and having screening more frequently.”

That risk, however, depends on which family member(s) had colorectal cancer and their age at the time of diagnosis.

Family History of Colorectal Cancer Risk

People who have a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) who has been diagnosed with colorectal cancer or polyps are at higher risk of also developing this cancer. The risk is greater if the relative was diagnosed before age 50 or if more than one relative was diagnosed.

If Your Relative(s) Developed Colon Cancer Specifically Before Age 50

Having a relative with early-onset colorectal cancer (the cancer developed before age 50) increases your risk factor. Researchers from the University at Buffalo and the University of Utah reviewed over 1500 early-onset colon cancer cases and published the following findings in the August 2021 edition of Cancer Epidemiology:

Your relative with early-onset colon cancer is/was: Risk of early-onset colon cancer
A first-degree relative
(your parents, siblings, or children)
More than 2 times more likely
Two or more first-degree relatives Nearly 4 times more likely
One or more first-degree relatives diagnosed before age 50. 4 times more likely
One or more second-degree relatives
(your aunts and uncles, grandparents, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews)
Nearly 2 times more likely

Still, most people with colorectal cancer don’t have a family history of the disease.

What are My Next Steps?

Doctor and patient with colon model If you have family history of colorectal cancer, it’s important to talk to your primary care provider about when and how often you should have a colonoscopy screening.

“Colonoscopy screening can help prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing polyps before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also help detect colorectal cancer at an early, more curable stage,” says Johnson.

Need a primary care provider? Use Munson Healthcare’s Find A Doctor tool at or call our Ask-A-Nurse line at 231-935-0951.