Colorectal Cancer

Finding out that you or a loved one has colorectal cancer, often referred to as colon cancer, can be one of the scariest moments of your life — but finding out that it’s a very treatable form of cancer can be a big relief.

The digestive system is responsible for breaking down what you eat and drink into nutrients, absorbing nutrients into your blood, and getting rid the waste. This process is what makes you have to use the bathroom.

Effects of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer affects one of two parts of the digestive system:

  • Large Intestine: This is also known as the colon. It absorbs nutrients and water, and turns waste into stool.
  • Rectum: This is the lower part of the colon that holds stool. It’s connected to the anus, which is where you push stool out of during a bowel movement.

Most cases of colorectal cancer begin with polyps — small, non-cancerous clumps of cells — in the lining of the colon. Polyps are very common — in fact, about 20% to 30% of American adults will have non-cancerous polyps at some point. Polyps are generally harmless. However, some can eventually turn into cancerous tumors.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include:

  • Changes in your bowel habits — including diarrhea, constipation or other consistency changes
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
  • Persistent cramps, gas, pain or other abdominal discomforts
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unexplained weight loss

Risk Factors

While doctors still aren’t certain what causes most colon cancers, there are certain factors that may increase your risk. These include:

  • Age: Colon cancer can be diagnosed at any age, but the majority of people with colon cancer are older than 50.
  • Race: African-Americans have a greater risk of colon cancer than people of other races.
  • Family History: You’re more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a blood relative who has had the disease.
  • Diet: Diets containing high amounts of red meat and processed meat may increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Smoking and Alcohol: People who smoke or consume heavy amounts of alcohol may have an increased risk of colon cancer.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: People who are inactive are more likely to develop colorectal cancer.

Treatment for Colorectal Cancer

Treatment for colorectal cancer depends on how advanced it is. In general, there are three major types of treatment: surgery, radiation or medication (including chemotherapy). You may receive just one of these or a combination.

Your doctor will help you choose the treatment option that works best for your cancer as well as your lifestyle.