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Genetic Predisposition for Cancers of the Colon
medical illustration of the colon

Doctors recommend frequent cancer screenings (colonoscopy) for individuals with a presumed higher genetic tendency towards certain types of colon cancers.

Some people have a genetic predisposition to form cancers of the colon. Colon cancer types include multiple polyp formation and non-polyp form cancers. According to Harvard University School of Medicine, clinical researchers now believe that a larger percentage of individuals with what were previously considered non-heredity-based colon cancers have genetic predisposition to forming these cancers. Here are answers to frequently asked questions about genetic causes of colon cancer:

Why are there so many names for heredity-caused cancers of the colon?

The identification and understanding of these cancers have evolved over the past one hundred twenty-five years. Doctors first wrote about this form of cancer in the late nineteenth century (1895). They first referred to it as familial neoplasm syndrome because it was evident to some doctors that colon cancer runs in families. Later on, researchers called the predisposition familial neoplasm syndrome and, even later, it was referred to as Lynch Syndrome. In the twentieth century, researchers called the condition hereditary non-polyposis colon.

What will the doctor do to help me know if I am at higher risk for these types of cancers?

GI North asks each patient to fill out a personal family medical history on the first visit and prompts the patient to provide new information about the family and individual medical history on each successive visit. If you’re unsure about the family history, it’s best to ask several family members about what types of cancers run in the family. For instance, some families seem to have a higher predisposition towards the development of several or multiple types. However, when a patient’s family history includes multiple family members with colon cancer, this information can help the doctor determine the patient’s risk.

What is the best course of action I can take to protect my health if colon cancer tends to run in my family?

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) believe that about five or six percent of all colon/colorectal cancers are the heredity-based non-polyposis form. This type of colorectal cancer is actually much more common than cancers that occur from hereditary polyposis types.

Doctors recommend frequent cancer screenings (colonoscopy) for individuals with a presumed higher genetic tendency towards these cancers. The colonoscopy procedure allows the physician to check the lining of the colon for any problems and to remove any polyps if the patient is developing them.

Is there any way to know if my genetic tendency is towards one type or another?

GI North can perform a genetic screenings to test the patient. Some individuals want to know if they’ve inherited the predisposition and others decide it’s best practice to undergo more frequent colonoscopy screens.

How does the doctor diagnose my predisposition towards colon cancer?

With all the genetic tools we have today, this type of cancer is sometimes difficult to diagnose. The testing tools available don’t always recognize the specific DNA marker. Early detection is often the best first step towards cure (colectomy). Unfortunately, though, some patients’ colon cancer may be long-established before it’s identified. Regular screenings as recommended by the doctor is so important!

How often should I have a colonoscopy?

Ask the doctor about how often you should receive colonoscopy tests. Many doctors recommend an annual or bi-yearly colonoscopy for patients with higher risk of developing these cancers, starting at age twenty. If neoplasms are identified, the physician is likely to recommend subtotal resection of the portion of the colon affected.

Isn’t there any other way for the doctor to screen for this type of cancer?

Many patients dislike getting a colonoscopy. The patient must restrict diet in order to clear the colon prior to the procedure. Yet it’s important to understand that inconvenience for a short period is a small price to pay for early identification of a very serious health condition. Don’t avoid this procedure if Dr. Cofrancesco explains you’re at higher risk! Advanced colon cancer is very difficult to treat.

What is my prognosis if I’m diagnosed with colon cancer?

If diagnosed early, the prognosis is actually better (ten-year survival prognosis) for patients with genetic markers for colon cancer.


Many patients believe they’re at higher risk for the development of cancers of the colon. It’s important to work closely with a board-certified gastroenterologist to determine and manage risk. Individuals with digestive disorders of all kinds are welcomed at GI North. Patients in Alpharetta, Dawsonville, Suwanee, Cumming, Canton, Johns Creek, Canton, and greater Atlanta should make an appointment with Dr. Cofrancesco today: (404) 446-0600.

© 2014 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

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