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Basic Facts About Colorectal Cancer

Basic Facts About Colorectal Cancer | ASCRS

Alternate Titles: 
Colorectal Cancer Facts
Cancer Facts

WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT?

Colorectal cancer — cancer of the colon and rectum — is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women combined. The general population faces a lifetime risk for developing the disease of about 5 percent, while someone whose family has a history of colorectal cancer has a 10 to 15 percent chance of developing the disease. The risk rises to over 50 percent in people with ulcerative colitis and those whose family members harbor specific genetic mutations.

Approximately 140,000 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed and 56,000 people will die from the disease this year. Surpassing both breast cancer and prostate cancer in mortality, colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer in numbers of deaths in the United States. Colorectal cancer strikes men and women with almost equal frequency.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?

Colorectal cancer is often a silent disease, developing with no symptoms at all. When symptoms do occur they may include the following:

  • Blood in or on the stool
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • General stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness, and/or cramps)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Frequent gas pains
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Constant tiredness, or new fatigue during activity that was previously tolerated

If you have any of these symptoms for more than two weeks, see your doctor or health professional immediately.  While not everyone who has these symptoms will have colon cancer, persistance of these is not normal and requires additional investigation to determine the underlying cause.  

CAN IT BE PREVENTED?

YES! Polyp-related colorectal cancer can be prevented. The disease develops from benign polyps (mushroom-like growths on the lining of the colon and rectum). Removing these polyps before they become cancerous may prevent cancer from developing.  

A low-fat diet, high in vegetable and fruit intake, and regular exercise can also lower your risk of developing colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer can be cured in up to 90 percent of people when it is discovered in its early stages. It is estimated that approximately 40,000 lives a year could be saved through widespread adoption of colorectal cancer screening and early treatment in men and women.  View the video regarding Polyps now for additional details.

WHO IS AT RISK?

The risk of developing colorectal cancer increases with age. All men and women aged 50 and older are at risk for developing colorectal cancer, and should be screened. Some people are at a higher risk and should be screened at an age younger than 50, including those with a personal or family history of inflammatory bowel disease; colorectal cancer or polyps; or ovarian, endometrial or breast cancer.

African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in advanced stages. Incidence rates for colorectal cancer in these groups have been on the rise — colorectal cancer has increased 46 percent among African-American men and 10 percent among African-American women.  For this reason, the recommended age to start screening for colon cancer in African Americans is 45 years.

Alaska Native women have the highest mortality from colorectal cancer of any other racial and ethnic group in the United States.  Watch the informative video regarding questions you might have regarding hereditary questions related to colon cancer. 

HOW DO I GET CHECKED FOR COLORECTAL CANCER?

Current screening methods include fecal occult blood testing (a simple chemical test that can detect hidden blood in the stool), flexible sigmoidoscopy (a visual examination of the rectum and lower portion of the colon, performed in a doctor's office), double contrast barium enema (barium x-ray), colonoscopy (a visual examination of the entire colon) and digital rectal exam. Virtual colonoscopy, or CT colonography, is also being used in some specific situations, but is not recommended as a mainstream screening test as of this time. Colorectal cancer screening, including colonoscopies, costs are covered by Medicare and many commercial health plans.

WHAT IS A COLORECTAL SURGEON?

Colon and rectal surgeons are experts in the surgical and non-surgical treatment of diseases of the colon, rectum and anus. They have completed advanced surgical training in the treatment of these diseases as well as full general surgical training.

Board-certified colon and rectal surgeons complete residencies in general surgery and colon and rectal surgery, and pass intensive examinations conducted by the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery. They are well-versed in the treatment of both benign and malignant diseases of the colon, rectum and anus and are able to perform routine screening examinations and surgically treat  conditions if indicated to do so.

DISCLAIMER

The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons is dedicated to ensuring high-quality patient care by advancing the science, prevention and management of disorders and diseases of the colon, rectum and anus. These brochures are inclusive but not prescriptive. Their purpose is to provide information on diseases and processes, rather than dictate a specific form of treatment. They are intended for the use of all practitioners, health care workers and patients who desire information about the management of the conditions addressed. It should be recognized that these brochures should not be deemed inclusive of all proper methods of care or exclusive of methods of care reasonably directed to obtain the same results. The ultimate judgment regarding the propriety of any specific procedure must be made by the physician in light of all the circumstances presented by the individual patient.