Background: A family history of colorectal cancer is recognized as a risk factor for the disease. However, as a result of the retrospective design of prior studies, the strength of this association is uncertain, particularly as it is influenced by characteristics of the person at risk and the affected family members.
Methods: We conducted a prospective study of 32,085 men and 87,031 women who had not previously been examined by colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy and who provided data on first-degree relatives with colorectal cancer, diet, and other risk factors for the disease. During the follow-up period, colorectal cancer was diagnosed in 148 men and 315 women.
Results: The age-adjusted relative risk of colorectal cancer for men and women with affected first-degree relatives, as compared with those without a family history of the disease, was 1.72 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.34 to 2.19). The relative risk among study participants with two or more affected first-degree relatives was 2.75 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.34 to 5.63). For participants under the age of 45 years who had one or more affected first-degree relatives, the relative risk was 5.37 (95 percent confidence interval, 1.98 to 14.6), and the risk decreased with increasing age (P for trend, < 0.001).
Conclusions: A family history of colorectal cancer is associated with an increased risk of the disease, especially among younger people.