What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. Sometimes it is called colon cancer. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel. The rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be. If everyone aged 50 years or older had regular screening tests, at least 60% of deaths from this cancer could be avoided.

Who gets colorectal cancer?

  • Both men and women can get it
  • It is most often found in people 50 or older
  • The risk increases with age

Are you at high risk?

Your risk for colorectal cancer may be higher than average if:

  • You or a close relative have had colorectal polyp or colorectal cancer
  • You have inflammatory bowel disease
  • You have a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer

People at high risk for colorectal cancer may need earlier or more frequent tests than other people. Talk to your doctor about when to begin screening and how often you should be tested.

Why should I get screened for colorectal cancer? 

If you’re 50 or older, getting a colorectal cancer screening test could save your life. Here’s how:

  • Colorectal cancer usually starts from polyps in the colon or rectum. A polyp is a growth that shouldn’t be there.
  • Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer.
  •  Screening tests can find polyps, so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.
  • Screening tests also can find colorectal cancer early. When it is found early, the chance of being cured is good.

I will recognize if I’m developing colorectal cancer, right?

Precancerous polyps and early-stage colorectal cancer don’t always cause symptoms, especially at first. This means that someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why having a screening test is so important.

What are the symptoms?

Some people with colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer do have symptoms. They may include:

  • Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement)
  • Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that don’t go away
  • Losing weight and you don’t know why

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. However, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor.

What kind of screening tests can be done for colorectal cancer?

Several different screening tests can be used to find polyps or colorectal cancer. Each can be used alone. Sometimes they are used in combination with each other. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends colorectal cancer screening for men and women aged 50-75 using high sensitivity fecal occult blood testing (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, or colonoscopy. Talk to your doctor about which test or tests are right for you. The decision to be screened after age 75 should be made on an individual basis. If you are older than 75, ask your doctor if you should be screened.

What’s the main point I should take away?

Be proactive about taking care of your colon health and talk with your healthcare provider about getting screened.

Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Colorectal Cancer Screening Basic Fact Sheet:
http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/colorectal/pdf/Basic_FS_Eng_Color.pdf