Colorectal Cancer

By Spader, Catherine RN

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that grows within the colon, also called the large intestine or large bowel. Cancer that grows in the last section of the colon, the rectum, is often called rectal cancer, and cancer that grows in other areas of the colon is often referred to as colon cancer. Colorectal cancer most often develops in the lower areas of the large intestine.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in women and men in the United States (not including skin cancers). It is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in both sexes combined, according to the American Cancer Society (Source: ACS).

Did you know?

Despite the grim statistics for colorectal cancer, it is a highly curable cancer if it is caught early. Your best defense against colon cancer is regular medical care and screening tests. Screening tests include:

  • Digital rectal exam, in which a health care practitioner inserts a gloved, lubricated finger in the rectum to feel for abnormal growths or lumps

  • Fecal occult blood test, in which the feces are tested for hidden blood

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy, in which a physician inserts a small, flexible and lighted tube into the colon in order to view any polyps (abnormal growths) or other potential problems. Polyps may also be removed during this procedure.

If you dread the thought of undergoing testing for colorectal cancer, you are not alone. However, modern testing can be performed with a minimum of discomfort and dramatically increases the chances of catching and treating colorectal cancer in its earliest, most curable stage.

Colorectal cancer often develops from adenomatous intestinal polyps, noncancerous growths in the colon that can become malignant or cancerous over time. In their early stages, adenomatous intestinal polyps often produce no symptoms. As cancer develops, symptoms can include:

  • A change in bowel movements or habits, such as constipation or diarrhea, or a change in the usual color or texture of feces

  • Bloating and abdominal discomfort

  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool

Untreated adenomatous intestinal polyps can develop into colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer can grow through the intestinal wall and spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver and lungs, and become terminal. You can minimize the risk of life-threatening complications of colorectal cancer by seeking regular medical care and routine colorectal cancer screening tests.

In addition, you should seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of colorectal cancer, such as a change in bowel habits. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you have major rectal bleeding or bloody, black or tarry stool.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Symptoms of colorectal cancer can vary among individuals. Some people experience no symptoms at all, especially in the early stages of the disease. In addition, colorectal cancer often develops from benign adenomatous intestinal polyps, which in themselves generally produce no symptoms.... Read more about colorectal cancersymptoms

CAUSES

What causes colorectal cancer?

The exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known. However, research shows that multiple acquired changes to the genetic material in the cells lining the colon can lead to their uncontrolled growth and the formation of precancerous cells, which can eventually form polyps. The presence of adenomatous intestinal polyps that are not removed while still benign (not cancerous) significantly increases the risk of developing colorectal cancer. The initial event that alters the cells is not known in most cases, but some gene mutations that increase the risk of colorectal cancer can be inherited.... Read more about colorectal cancercauses

TREATMENTS

How is colorectal cancer treated?

The goal of the treatment of colorectal cancer is to permanently cure the cancer or to bring about a complete remission of the disease. Remission means that there is no longer any sign of cancer in the body, although cancer may recur or relapse later.... Read more about colorectal cancertreatments

Medical Reviewer: Williams, Robert MD Last Annual Review Date: Mar 16, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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This Article is Filed Under: Cancer