What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer means that cells that aren’t normal are growing in your colon or rectum. These cells grow together and form polyps. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer.
This cancer is also called colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer is. It is the third most common cancer in the United States. And it occurs most often in people older than 50.
What causes colorectal cancer?
The exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known. Most cases begin as small growths, or polyps, inside the colon or rectum.
Colon polyps are very common. If they are found early, usually through routine screening tests, they can be removed before they turn into cancer.
What are the symptoms?
Colorectal cancer usually doesn’t cause symptoms until after it has started to spread. See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Pain in your belly.
- Blood in your stool or very dark stools.
- A change in your bowel habits, such as more frequent stools or a feeling that your bowels are not emptying completely.
How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?
If your doctor thinks that you may have this cancer, you will need a test, called a colonoscopy (say “koh-luh-NAW-skuh-pee”), that lets the doctor see the inside of your entire colon and rectum. During this test, your doctor will remove polyps or take tissue samples from any areas that don’t look normal. The tissue will be looked at under a microscope to see if it contains cancer.
Sometimes another test, such as a sigmoidoscopy (say “sig-moy-DAW-skuh-pee”), is used to diagnose colorectal cancer.
How is it treated?
Colorectal cancer is usually treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or targeted therapy. Rectal cancer may be treated with immunotherapy.
How can you screen for colorectal cancer?
Screening tests can find or prevent many cases of colon and rectal cancer. They look for a certain disease or condition before any symptoms appear. Some experts say that adults should start regular screening at age 50 and stop at age 75. Others say to start before age 50 or continue after age 75. Talk with your doctor about your risk and when to start and stop screening. Your doctor may recommend getting tested more often or at a younger age if you have a higher risk.
Screening tests include stool tests, such as FIT, that can be done at home and procedures, such as colonoscopy, that are done at your doctor’s office or clinic.
Current as of: December 17, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: E. Gregory Thompson MD – Internal Medicine, Kathleen Romito MD – Family Medicine Kenneth Bark MD – General Surgery, Colon and Rectal Surgery, Adam Husney MD – Family Medicine