Colorectal Cancer

Together, cancers of the colon and rectum are among the most common cancers in the United States. Such cancers occur in both men and women and often among people who are over the age of 50.

Risk Factors

  • Age — Colorectal cancer is more common in people over the age of 50.
  • Diet — Colorectal cancer seems to be associated with diets high in fat and calories and low in fiber.
  • Family Medical History — Parents, siblings and children of a person who has had colorectal cancer are somewhat more likely to develop this type of cancer, especially if the relative had the cancer at a young age.
  • Personal Medical History — Women with a history of cancer of the ovary, uterus or breast have a somewhat increased chance of developing colorectal cancer. Also, a person who has already had colorectal cancer may develop this disease a second time.
  • Polyps — Benign growths on the inner wall of the colon and rectum and some types of polyps increase a person's risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Ulcerative Colitis — Ulcerative colitis is a condition in which the lining of the colon becomes inflamed. This condition increases a person's chance of developing colorectal cancer.

Symptoms

  • Abdominal discomfort (frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness and/or cramps)
  • Blood (bright red or very dark) in the stool
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Constant tiredness
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Stools narrower than usual
  • Weight loss (for no known reason)
  • Vomiting

Diagnosis

To determine the cause of the symptoms, your physician will conduct a physical exam and evaluate your medical history. One or more of the following tests may be administered:

  • Biopsy — A tissue sample is removed and examined under a microscope by a pathologist.
  • Colonoscopy — This procedure enables the physician to see inside the rectum and the colon to remove polyps or other abnormal tissue for examination under a microscope.
  • Polypectomy — This procedure removes a polyp during a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.
  • Sigmoidoscopy — This procedure enables the doctor to see inside the rectum and the lower colon to remove polyps or other abnormal tissue for examination under a microscope.
  • X-rays can reveal polyps or other changes.

Source: National Cancer Institute