Colorectal Cancer

Overview

Colorectal cancer, sometimes called colon cancer, is cancer that occurs in either the colon or the rectum, which are both parts of the large intestine. Colorectal cancer is common in both men and women and is most often diagnosed in people 50 years and older. Although colorectal cancer is serious, it can be prevented with regular screenings. When the cancer is caught early, it can often be cured completely.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Colorectal cancer may not cause any symptoms in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms that do occur vary depending on the cancer’s size and location in the large intestine. Signs of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel habits, rectal bleeding or blood in stool, persistent stomach pain, and unexplained weight loss.

Colorectal cancer is diagnosed with a colonoscopy, which involves using a scope to examine the inside of the colon and taking tissue samples (biopsies). A virtual colonoscopy can also be done using CT images. If a biopsy indicates cancer, doctors will order staging tests (imaging tests) to determine how far the cancer has progressed. Treatment options depend on the stage of the cancer.

Causes

Almost all colon cancers begin as benign polyps in the lining of the colon or rectum, eventually developing into cancer.If left untreated, the cancer can spread to the wall of the colon or rectum and then invade nearby lymph nodes. The final stage of colorectal cancer is when cancer has spread to other organs such as the liver or lungs. A very small percentage of colorectal cancers are inherited; the two most common inherited diseases that increase the risk of colorectal cancer are familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome). Certain people may have a higher risk of colorectal cancer, including people over 50, African Americans, people with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, and people with a family history of colon cancer or polyps. Diabetes, obesity, smoking, heavy alcohol use, and low-fiber, high fat diets may also increase someone’s risk of developing colorectal cancer. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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