About Colorectal Cancer

Colon cancer is common but very preventable if people over the age of 50 get regular colon screening.

Colorectal cancer occurs when cells in the colon or rectum become abnormal and reproduce uncontrollably. The abnormal growth forms a cancerous tumor. Fortunately, this is a process that usually takes years since most colorectal cancer begins as a tiny polyp and grows slowly. Removing a polyp usually prevents it from becoming cancer.

When colorectal cancer is not found early, it may grow into the walls of the colon or rectum. The cancer may then enter blood vessels or lymph nodes and travel to other parts of the body. The cancer cells may then cause cancer in another area or organ, such as the liver. The process of cancer spreading is called metastasis.

Colorectal cancer screening is a topic that makes many people uncomfortable. However, this screening can prevent cancer or identify it early while it is most treatable. It’s important to not let any anxiety you have about this type of screening exam prevent you from having it. Learn more about colon cancer screening and risk categories.

Facts About Colon Cancer

Following are some facts about colorectal cancer:

  • The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be 143,460 new cases of colorectal cancer in 2012 in the United States. There will be about 51,690 deaths from it in 2012.
  • Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer found in men and women in the United States.
  • Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer related deaths in the United States for both men and women.
  • A large portion of colon cancer deaths are preventable if individuals have regular colon screening. Only about half of adults ages 50 to 75 are appropriately screened.
  • Since 1998, colorectal cancer rates have been declining by 3.0% per year in men and by 2.3% per year in women. The decline in the past decade is likely due to colorectal cancer screenings.
  • The Cleveland Clinic indicates that only about 5-10% of colon cancers are believed to be hereditary.
  • People of all ethnic backgrounds are susceptible to colorectal cancer. Incidence and mortality rates are higher in African Americans than in whites. Other major ethnic groups have lower incidence and mortality rates than whites.
  • According to the American Cancer Society, overall, the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 1 in 20 (5.1%).

Risk Factors and Symptoms

Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer

Everyone is at risk of developing colorectal cancer. Most people who develop the disease have no known risk factors. Following are some risk factors associates with colon cancer:

  • Overweight
  • Sedentary (inactive) lifestyle
  • Diet high in red meat (more than one serving per day) and/or low in vegetables (less than three servings per day)
  • Over-consumption of alcohol
  • Diabetes
  • Cigarette smoking

Reducing the Risk

While you can’t control certain risk factors for colorectal cancer, such as your age and family history, there are ways you can reduce your risk.

  • Get screened regularly beginning at age 50 (if you are at high risk for colorectal cancer, you may need to start earlier)
  • Eat a low-fat, high-fiber diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables
  • Stay at a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Reduce intake of red meats
  • Take aspirin regularly (discuss this with your physician first)
  • Take calcium supplements regularly (discuss this with your physician first)

Symptoms of Colon Cancer

Many people have no symptoms during the early stages of colon cancer. For people who do experience symptoms, they can vary depending on the size and location of the cancer.

If any of the following symptoms continues for more than two weeks, see your doctor:

  • Change in bowel habits, including constipation, diarrhea, or a change in the consistency of your stool
  • Narrow, pencil-thin stool
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool on multiple occasions
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as gas, cramps or pain
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chronic fatigue

These symptoms or changes may occur with other health problems also, such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammatory bowel disease, diverticulosis, and diverticulitis. If you experience any of these symptoms for a prolonged period, see your primary care physician to determine the cause.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing Colorectal Cancer

Polyps often don’t have any symptoms. It’s important to be appropriately screened for colorectal cancer so any polyps and abnormalities can be caught early when they are most treatable.

Colonoscopies have been the gold standard in colorectal cancer screening. Invision Sally Jobe offers a CT colonography, or virtual colonoscopy, which uses a CT scanner to examine the colon for polyps in a less invasive way than a traditional colonoscopy.

With this exam, a tube is inserted only 3-4 inches into the body. No sedation is required. Virtual colonoscopies have proven to be very effective, detecting 95-100% of colorectal cancers and 90-100% of colon polyps.

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