Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon or rectum. These cancers are also called colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they originate. Colon and rectal cancer are often grouped together, because they have similar features. Excluding skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women in the United States.

Knowing the signs and symptoms, risk factors, early detection methods and treatment options is important whether you were diagnosed with colorectal cancer or are taking proactive steps to reduce your risk.

Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

If you notice any of these symptoms, talk with your doctor right away:

  • Bleeding from the rectum, blood on the stool or blood in the stool
  • Change in bowel movements
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Stools that are more narrow than usual
  • General abdominal problems such as bloating, fullness or cramps
  • Weight loss for no apparent reason
  • Feeling fatigued all the time
  • Vomiting

People at Risk of Colorectal Cancer

  • Age 50 and older
  • Smokers
  • Overweight or obese, and carry fat around the waist
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Not physically active
  • Eat a lot of red or processed meat
  • Drink alcohol in excess
  • Personal or family history of colorectal cancer or colorectal polyps
  • Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)

Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis

If you have symptoms of colorectal cancer, or a screening test shows something abnormal, your doctor will recommend one or more exams and tests to find the cause. These can include:

  • Physical exam
  • Diagnostic colonoscopy
  • Biopsy (performed during the colonoscopy)
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests, such as a CT scan or MRI

Colorectal Cancer Treatment

Treatment for colorectal cancer depends on many factors. Ask your doctor what type of treatment is best for you. Surgery is the most common treatment for colorectal cancer. Chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiation may be administered before or after surgery, if needed.

Colorectal Cancer Prevention

  • Get screened according to guidelines. Certain screenings can prevent this cancer by removing polyps (grape-like growths on the wall of the large intestine, which is part of the colon) before they become cancerous.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Adults should get 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous intensity activity, each week (or a combination of these). Reaching, or exceeding, the upper limit is ideal.
  • Avoid alcohol. If chose to drink, limit your alcohol to no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman and no more than two drinks a day if you’re a man. Drinking alcohol is linked to colorectal and several other cancers.
  • Don’t smoke or use tobacco. If you do, quit smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight and waist size.
  • Avoid too much red and processed meats, sugar-sweetened beverages or highly processed foods and refined grain products.
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains.

Colorectal Cancer Screening

Start screenings at age 45 if you’re at average risk for colorectal cancer. If you’re at increased risk, you may need to start regular screening at an earlier age and/or be screened more often. Continue screening through age 75 if you’re in good health with a life expectancy of 10 years or more. There are many types of tests that screen for colorectal cancer. Ask your provider which test fits your needs. Regular screenings can detect the disease when treatment is more likely to be successful.

The most common form of screening for colorectal cancer is a colonoscopy.

Genetic Counseling

If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, genetic counseling can help you evaluate whether you have an increased risk for developing cancer. Talk with your primary care provider to determine if this is a good option for you.

Our Cancer Centers

Each cancer experience is unique, and that’s why our experienced cancer center teams are committed to using the latest treatments and clinical research to provide you with individualized and advanced care close to home.