Top Questions About Colorectal Cancer
Colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer found in American men and women. Here are some questions and answers about the basics of the disease, its symptoms and risk factors.
What are the differences between colorectal cancer, colon cancer and rectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is the term used to describe cancer of the colon and/or rectum. The two cancers are grouped together because they share many common characteristics. Together, the colon and rectum make up the large intestine, a question mark-shaped bowel four feet in length.
Colon cancer develops in all but the last few inches of the large intestine, between the appendix and rectum. Rectal cancer develops in the rectum, the last few inches of the large intestine that attaches to the anus.
Colon cancer is more common. An estimated 95,000 new cases of colon cancer are diagnosed each year, compared to 39,000 cases of rectal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
What are the signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer may develop when benign polyps in the large intestine grow and become cancerous. There may be no symptoms of benign polyps or colorectal cancer in its earliest stages.
As the cancer grows, symptoms may include abdominal pain or cramps; constipation or diarrhea; blood in the stool; bloating or a sense of not feeling empty after a bowel movement; flattened or ribbon-shaped stool and/or pain in the rectum.
Signs of advanced colorectal cancer may include unexplained weight loss, fatigue, anemia and loss of appetite.
Is it true that only older men get colorectal cancer?
Your risk of colorectal cancer does increase with age. The median age of a person diagnosed with colorectal cancer is 68. And more men do get colorectal cancer than women.
But women also are at risk. In fact, the rate of new cases among men is 47 per 100,000, while the rate for women is 36 per 100,000.
Can colorectal cancer be prevented?
The risk factors for colorectal cancer may be reduced with regular checkups and lifestyle changes. The American Cancer Society recommends that men and women have a colonoscopy beginning at age 50.
African Americans have a higher risk of colorectal cancer and should begin screening at the age of 45. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, you should get screened 10 years earlier than when your family member was diagnosed.
For example, if your father was diagnosed with colon cancer at 48, you should talk to your doctor about getting a colonoscopy at 38. Talk to your doctor about how often you should get a colonoscopy.
The procedure may be able to help your doctor spot cancer in its early stages. And pre-cancerous polyps may be removed and biopsies performed during the procedure, if necessary.
Changes in your lifestyle may also help lower your colorectal cancer risk. Obesity, smoking, alcohol, diet and a sedentary lifestyle have been linked to increased risks for colorectal cancer.