Colorectal Cancer: Fast Facts

  • Colorectal cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the colon or rectum.
  • Colorectal cancer is the number two cause of cancer deaths in the United States, after lung cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
  • Improvements in screening have helped reduce the mortality rate over the last 15 years.
  • Colorectal cancer is usually curable when it is detected in the early stages.
  • Increased screening could further reduce the mortality rate of colorectal cancer.
  • This cancer usually begins as polyps, which are abnormal growths in the inner lining of the colon or rectum.
  • Polyps are not cancer but can become cancerous over the years.
  • More than 95 percent of colorectal cancer is adenocarcinoma.
  • Adenocarcinoma is cancer of the gland cells that line the inside wall of the large intestine.
  • Some risk factors for colorectal cancer cannot be controlled, such as having a family history of this cancer, age and ethnicity.
  • Some lifestyle habits can increase the risk of this cancer.
  • A diet high in animal fat and low in fiber, physical inactivity and smoking are some factors that increase the risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Screening for colorectal cancer is important because symptoms may be absent or may be due to other conditions.
  • Possible indicators of this cancer include changes in bowel habits, abdominal pain and bleeding from the rectum.
  • Diagnostic tests for colorectal cancer include tests for blood in the stool, a type of enema x-ray, flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy.
  • Ultrasound, blood tests, x-rays and magnetic resonance imaging may also be used.
  • Treatment may involve surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy.

Reviewed by Martin E. Liebling, M.D., FACP

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