Colorectal Cancer

Cancer of the colon and rectum - called colorectal cancer (CRC) - is the third leading cause of cancer deaths among men and women in the world. However, if detected early, colorectal cancer can be cured. With simple preventive steps, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing the disease. It is important for you to understand your risks for colorectal cancer, the symptoms, and screening tests that can detect cancerous growths.

Colorectal cancer develops from non-cancer polyps called adenomatous polyps. A polyp is a mushroom-like growth on the inside wall of the colon or rectum. Polyps grow slowly over three to ten years. Most people do not develop polyps until after the age of 50. Some polyps become cancerous, others do not. In order to prevent colorectal cancer, it is important to get screened to find out if you have polyps, and to have them removed if you do. Removal of polyps has been shown to prevent CRC.

Colorectal Cancer Screening

How Do I Know if I’m at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?

Everyone has a risk of developing CRC. However, your risk depends on several factors. You are at average risk for colorectal cancer if you:

You are at increased risk for colorectal cancer if you:

There are several inherited disorders that greatly increase your risk of CRC. However, they are not very common. Other factors that increase your risk of developing CRC are:

Aren’t Women at Less Risk for Colorectal Cancer than Men?

Men and women are equally affected by colorectal cancer. In fact, colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in women. Also, about 67,000 women are diagnosed with this cancer each year and more than 40 percent of them - 28,600 - die from the disease.

What are the Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer begins with no symptoms at all. However, over time, there are a number of warning signs:

What Should I Do if I Have These Symptoms?

Call your doctor and schedule an appointment. Only your physician can determine if your symptoms are due to CRC.

Why is Screening Important If I have No Symptoms?

Screening is important for two reasons. The early stage of CRC - which is when it is most curable - frequently does not cause any symptoms. And, just as important, screening is the only way to find polyps. If the polyp is removed, it cannot develop into cancer.

What Type of Screening Tests are Available?

There are several types of screening tests. Talk with your doctor about which one is best for you. People at average risk should start screening at age 50. People at increased risk start at age 40.

How Do I Prepare for These Screening Tests?

Proper preparation is the most important thing you can do to help ensure you get the most accurate screening possible. Your doctor will give you complete instructions on what to do. Before any test, let your doctor know about any medicines you are taking because they may affect the test results.

What if I Am Diagnosed with Colorectal Cancer?

If you are diagnosed with CRC, surgery is generally required to remove the cancerous polyps and other malignant tissue. Chemotherapy is sometimes needed. The type of surgery and follow-up treatment will depend on how far advanced the cancer is. In the past, a colostomy ( bag draining the feces outside) was usually necessary. However, new surgical technologies can eliminate the need for a colostomy in many patients.

Can Colorectal Cancer be Prevented if so how?

There is no way to completely eliminate the risk of developing CRC as its mostly genetic. That is why screening is so important. However, there is some evidence that you can reduce your chance of getting CRC by doing the following: