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What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Treatment

Colorectal Cancer Basics

  • Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. 
  • Men and women are at equal risk of developing colorectal cancer. 
  • Early detection of colorectal cancer leads to easier treatments and higher survival rates. 
  • More than one-third of colorectal cancer deaths could be avoided if all eligible individuals participated in regular screening. 
  • Colorectal cancer screening is safe and effective.

Your Colon

The colon is an important organ in your body's digestive system. The colon, also known as the large intestine, consists of a long, thick tube that:

  • Absorbs water and minerals from digested food.
  • Contains the rectum, which stores undigested solid waste.

Colorectal Cancer

Cancer of the colon and rectum called colorectal cancer occurs when a growth in the lining of the colon or rectum becomes malignant, or cancerous. It is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S. However, if caught early, colorectal cancer can be cured. It's important for you to understand your risks for colorectal cancer, the symptoms of colorectal cancer and screening tests that can detect cancerous growths. With simple preventive steps, you can also reduce your risk of developing the disease.


Colorectal cancer usually develops from pre-cancer polyps called adenomatous polyps. A polyp is a grape-like growth on the inside wall of the colon or rectum. Polyps grow slowly over many years. Most people do not develop polyps until after the age of 50 if they have an average risk for colorectal cancer (see below).

Some polyps become cancerous, others do not. In order to reduce the likelihood of colorectal cancer, it is important to get screened to find out if you have polyps and to have them removed if you do.

With regular colorectal cancer screening, more than one-third of colorectal cancer deaths could be avoided.


Along with regular screening, healthy lifestyle choices are the best current preventive measures against colorectal cancer. Here's how you can help reduce your risk:

  • Eat more foods that are high in fiber whole grains, fruits, vegetables.
  • Eat more cruciferous vegetables cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts.
  • Increase calcium intake low-fat milk, shellfish, salmon, calcium supplements with vitamin-D. 
  • Decrease fats oils, butter, red meats. 
  • Limit your intake of charcoal broiled foods and avoid salt-cured foods. 
  • Exercise regularly. 
  • Consider taking low daily doses of aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (it is important to discuss with your doctor first).

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer may begin with no symptoms at all. However, over time, there are a number of warning signs that can occur such as:

  • Rectal bleeding. 
  • Blood in your stool (bright red, black or very dark). 
  • A temporary change in your bowel movements, especially in the shape of the stool (e.g., narrow like a pencil). 
  • Discomfort in having a bowel movement or the urge to move your bowels when there is no need. 
  • Cramping pain in your lower abdomen. 
  • Frequent gas pains. 
  • Weight loss without dieting. 
  • Constant fatigue.

What Should I Do if I Have These Symptoms?

Call your gastroenterologist and schedule an appointment. He or she will ask questions about your symptoms and determine the best diagnostic test for you.

To help you understand and manage your condition, the AGA Institute provides you with the following information, designed to give you some basic facts, to help you better understand your condition and to serve as a starting point for discussions with your doctor.

Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors

You may be at average or increased risk for colorectal cancer, depending on your age and family medical history.

Average Risk

You are at average risk for colorectal cancer if you:

  • Are age 50 or older and have none of the following risk factors.

Increased Risk Factors

You are at increased risk for colorectal cancer if you have:

  1. Personal history of colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps.
  2. Family history one or more parents, siblings, or children with colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps.
  3. Family history of multiple cancers, involving the breast, ovary, uterus and other organs.
  4. Personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease.
  5. Inherited syndrome such as Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), which leads to hundreds of polyps in the colon or rectum during the teen years; generally one of these develops into cancer by age 30.
  6. Lynch Syndrome (Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colon  Cancer), which is not characterized by a large number of polyps as a warning sign.

Gender Is Not a Risk Factor

There is a common misperception that women are less likely to get colorectal cancer than men, but men and women are equally affected by colorectal cancer.
In fact, colorectal cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death in women, behind breast and lung cancer. More than 71,000 women are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year and nearly 26,000 die from the disease.

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Information Provided by Hattiesburg G.I. Associates, PLLC

American Gastroenterological Association. (April 23, 2010). Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Treatment.
From http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/colorectal-cancer web.