What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. Most types of colorectal cancer begin with polyps (grape-shaped growths on the lining of the colon and rectum). Removing a polyp early may prevent it from becoming cancer. Polyps are very common in people older than 50 years of age and usually are benign (not cancerous), but some polyps can slowly develop over the years into cancer.
What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer begins in the digestive system and symptoms may differ depending on where the cancer starts. In its early stages, colorectal cancer often has no symptoms, which is why screening tests are important. People who have symptoms may have a change in bowel habits, diarrhea, constipation or a feeling that the bowel does not empty completely. They also may experience bright red or very dark blood in the stool, stools that are narrower than normal, discomfort in the abdomen including frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness or cramps, weight loss with no known reason, constant and extreme tiredness, vomiting and anemia (low iron in the blood).
Some of these symptoms can be caused by other conditions. Talk with your health care provider if you think you are having any of these symptoms.
Who should be concerned about colorectal cancer?
While it does not get the attention of other cancers, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer (excluding skin cancer) in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Risks factors include:
Colorectal cancer is sometimes called a silent killer because in the early stages a person will often have no symptoms. Screening tests are one of the most powerful weapons in preventing colorectal cancer. This is because polyps, or growths, can be detected and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Screening also can result in finding colorectal cancer early, when it is highly curable.
What screening tests are available to help detect colorectal cancer?
There are several different screening tests that can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer. Each one can be used alone; sometimes they are used in combination. Talk to your doctor about which test(s) is right for you and how often you should be tested. For those of average risk, screening tests usually begin at age 50.
What are treatment options for colorectal cancer?
Treatment for colorectal cancer depends mostly on the size, location and extent of the tumor, as well as a person's overall health. Surgery to remove the tumor is the most common treatment for colorectal cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy also may be used to kill cancer cells. With new surgical techniques, treatment rarely requires a colostomy (an opening into a "bag" for passage of bowel movements).
How can I reduce my risk for colon cancer?
More information about colorectal cancer can be obtained by contacting:
National Cancer Institute
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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