Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum. In Connecticut, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed among men and women and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Health officials estimate that 60 percent of these deaths could be prevented with regular screening, yet 30 percent of state residents over 50 have never been screened; the importance of knowing about risk factors, prevention & early detection, and possible symptoms are more than necessary.
The colon, also called the large bowel or large intestine, and the rectum are part of the digestive tract. The digestive tract is the group of organs through which food and liquids pass when they are swallowed, digested and eliminated. The colon is where water and nutrients from food are absorbed. What is left over is called waste, which moves from the colon to the rectum where it passes through your body.
Watch these videos or continue reading to learn more about colorectal cancer, screening, and prevention.
What is Colorectal Cancer? How can it develop?
- Colorectal cancer is when tumors of the colon and rectum grow from the inner wall of the large intestine.
- Most cancers of the large intestine are believed to have developed from polyps.
- If not found and removed, polyps can develop into malignant tumors, or cancer.
- Cancer of the colon and rectum (also referred to as colorectal cancer) can invade and damage adjacent tissues and organs, spreading to other parts of the body (like the liver or lungs) where new tumors form.
- The spread of colon cancer to far-away organs is called metastasis of the colon cancer.
Although a leading cause of fatalities among both men and women, if detected early, colorectal cancer can be successfully treated.
There are steps you can take to prevent colon cancer. Such as:
- Know the risk factors. People who are age 50 or older or who have Type 2 Diabetes should be screened regularly.
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes, at least five days a week.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, quit.
- What you eat & drink can affect how your digestive tract works. So:
- If you drink alcohol, have no more than one drink a day if you’re a woman or two drinks a day if you’re a man.
- Eat fruits, vegetables and whole grains to help you get and stay healthy.
- Eat less red meat (beef, pork, or lamb) and cut out processed meat (bacon, sausage, hot dogs, cold cuts).
- Know your family history. People with personal or family histories of colorectal cancer, benign polyps, inflammatory bowel diseases (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease) or inherited colorectal cancer/problems should be tested regularly.
Colorectal Cancer Early Detection
If you’re at average risk for colorectal cancer, start getting screened at age 50. If you’re at higher risk, you may need to start regular screening at an earlier age and be screened more often. If you’re older than 75, ask your doctor if you should continue to be screened. The best time to get screened is before you have any symptoms.
Use this information to help you talk about screening options with your health care professional. Consider one of these tests:
Tests that find pre-cancer and cancer:
- Colonoscopy – Every 10 years
- Test that allows your doctor to look at the inner lining of your large intestine (rectum & colon)
- Virtual colonoscopy – Every 5 years
- Procedure used to look for signs of pre-cancerous growths, called polyps; cancer; and other diseases of the large intestine.
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy – Every 5 years
- Procedure used to see inside the sigmoid colon and rectum
- The sigmoid colon is the last 1/3 of the colon.
- Double-contrast barium enema – Every 5 years
- Procedure in which x-rays of the colon and rectum are taken after a liquid containing barium is put into the rectum.
- At low doses, barium acts as a muscle stimulant
Early stages of colorectal cancer don’t usually have symptoms. Later on, people may have these symptoms:
- Bleeding from the rectum or blood in or on the stool
- Change in bowel habits
- Stools that are more narrow than usual, presenting with a ribbon-like appearance.
- General problems in the abdomen, such as bloating, fullness or cramps
- Diarrhea, constipation or a feeling in the rectum that the bowel movement isn’t quite complete
- Weight loss for no apparent reason
- Being tired all the time