Is this topic for you?
This topic will tell you about the initial testing, diagnosis, and treatment of colorectal cancer. If you want to learn about colorectal cancer that has come back or has spread, see the topic Reference Colorectal Cancer, Metastatic or Recurrent.
What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer happens when cells that are not normal grow in your Reference colon or rectum Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window. These cells grow together and form polyps. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer.
This cancer is also called colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer is. It is the third most common cancer in the United States. And it occurs most often in people older than 50.
As with other cancers, treatment for colorectal cancer works best when the cancer is found early. Screening tests can detect or prevent this cancer, but only about half of people older than 50 are screened. According to the American Cancer Society, if everyone were tested, tens of thousands of lives could be saved each year.
What causes colorectal cancer?
Most cases begin as Reference polyps Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window, which are small growths inside the colon or rectum. Reference Colon polyps Opens New Window are very common. Some polyps can turn into cancer. But doctors cannot tell ahead of time which polyps will turn into cancer. This is why people age 50 and older need regular tests to find out if they have any polyps and then have them removed. And some people who are younger than 50 need regular tests if their medical history puts them at increased risk for colorectal cancer.
What are the symptoms?
Colorectal cancer usually does not cause symptoms until after it has begun to spread. See your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:
- Pain in your belly
- Blood in your stool or very dark stools
- A change in your bowel habits, such as more frequent stools or a feeling that your bowels are not emptying completely
How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?
If your doctor thinks that you may have this cancer, you will need a test, called a Reference colonoscopy Opens New Window (say "koh-luh-NAW-skuh-pee"), that lets the doctor see the inside of your entire colon and rectum. During this test, your doctor will remove polyps or take tissue samples from any areas that don't look normal. The tissue will be looked at under a microscope to see if it contains cancer.
Sometimes another test, such as a Reference sigmoidoscopy Opens New Window (say "sig-moy-DAW-skuh-pee"), is used to diagnose colorectal cancer.
How is it treated?
Finding out that you have cancer can change your life. You may feel like your world has turned upside down and you have lost all control. Talking with family, friends, or a counselor can really help. Ask your doctor about support groups. Or call the American Cancer Society (1-800-227-2345) or visit its website at www.cancer.org.
How can you screen for colorectal cancer?
Screening tests can find or prevent many cases of colon and rectal cancer. They look for a certain disease or condition before any symptoms appear. Experts recommend routine colon cancer testing for everyone age 50 and older who has a normal risk for colon cancer. Your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent testing if you have a higher risk for colorectal cancer. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested.
These are the most common screening tests:
- Stool tests that check for signs of cancer:
- Fecal occult blood test (FOBT)
- Fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
- Stool DNA test (sDNA)
- Sigmoidoscopy. A doctor puts a flexible viewing tube into your rectum and into the first part of your colon. This lets the doctor see the lower portion of the intestine, which is where most colon cancers grow. Doctors can remove polyps during this test also.
- Colonoscopy. A doctor puts a long, flexible viewing tube into your rectum and colon. The tube is usually linked to a video monitor similar to a TV screen. With this test, the doctor can see the entire large intestine.
- Computed tomographic colonography (CTC). This test is also called a virtual colonoscopy. A computer and X-rays make a detailed picture of the colon to help the doctor look for polyps.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning about colorectal cancer:
Living with colorectal cancer:
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference October 22, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Reference Kenneth Bark, MD - Surgery, Colon and Rectal