What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or rectum. Colon and rectal cancers begin in the digestive system, also called the gastrointestinal (GI) system.
In most cases, colon and rectal cancers develop slowly over a period of several years. Colon and rectal cancer have many features in common and are often referred to as “colorectal cancer.”
Most colorectal cancers begin as polyps. Colorectal polyps are tiny, grape-like growths inside the colon or rectum that may become cancerous.
Facts: According to the Illinois State Cancer Registry, about 7,460 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in Illinois in 2008. About 2,670 Illinoisans are expected to die of colorectal cancer in 2008.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Colorectal Cancer?
The exact causes of colorectal cancer are not known. Common risk factors include:
Family history of colorectal cancer: If you have close relatives (parent, brother or sister, or child) who have had this cancer, your risk is increased.
Ethnic background: Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews) have a higher rate of colon cancer.
Previous colorectal cancer: Even if a colorectal cancer has been completely removed, new cancers may start in other areas of your colon and rectum.
Polyps: Polyps are common in people older than age 50 and some become cancerous. Familial polyposis, an inherited condition, can cause hundreds of polyps to form in the colon and rectum. Unless this condition is treated, it almost always leads to cancer. Screening tests can find polyps and they can be removed before they become cancerous.
History of bowel disease: The disease ulcerative colitis (Crohn’s disease) increases the risk of colon cancer. In this disease, the colon is inflamed over a long period of time and may have ulcers.
Age: Colorectal cancer is more common in people older than age 50 and the risk increases with age.
Diet: A diet high in fat, especially fat from animal sources, can increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
Lack of exercise: People who are not physically active have a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
Smoking: According to the American Cancer Society, smokers are 30 percent to 40 percent more likely than nonsmokers to die of colorectal cancer.
Alcohol: Excessive use of alcohol has been linked to colorectal cancer.
What are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?
There are often no symptoms of colorectal cancer in its early stage. When symptoms are present, they include one or more of the following:
These symptoms may be caused by advanced colorectal cancer or some other condition. It is important to report any of these symptoms to a doctor.
How to Prevent Colorectal Cancer:
Beginning at age 50, both men and women at average risk should follow the screening tests listed below:
While a digital rectal exam (DRE) is often done as part of a regular physical exam, it should not be used as a stand-alone test for colorectal cancer.
For more information:
American Cancer Society
National Cancer Institute
Illinois Department of Public Health
Comprehensive Cancer Control Program
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Springfield, IL 62761