Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 149,000 new cases of colorectal cancer will be diagnosed in 2021, and almost 53,000 men and women will die from the disease. The death rate from colorectal cancer has dropped over the last several decades, mainly because people are getting screened and changing their lifestyle-related risk factors.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. Depending on where the cancer starts, it can be called colon or rectal cancer. Abnormal polyps may form in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Over time, they can turn into cancer and potentially grow into blood vessels or lymph vessels. From there, the polyps can travel to nearby lymph nodes or to distant parts of the body. The stage, or extent of spread, of colorectal cancer depends on how deeply the polyps grow into the wall and if they spread outside the colon or rectum.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists risk factors that may contribute to an increased risk of colorectal cancer and can include:
- Family history.
- Inflammatory bowel disease.
- Genetics / hereditary colon cancer.
- Lack of regular physical activity.
- High fat, low fiber diet.
- Heavy alcohol and tobacco use.
Colorectal cancer does not always cause symptoms. Someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. Early detection is key, so it is important to see your doctor and get screened regularly for colorectal cancer.
Some of the CDC’s warning signs of colorectal cancer may include:
- A change in bowel habits.
- Blood in or on your stool.
- Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty all the way.
- Abdominal pain, aches or steady cramping.
- Feeling weak and tired.
- Decreased appetite.
- Unexpected weight loss.
If you notice or experience any of these symptoms, review the CDC’s list of questions for your doctor and make an appointment with your health care provider right away.
Early Detection and Prevention
Colorectal cancer is highly preventable, and if detected early, is one of the most curable types of cancer. In fact, there are now more than 1.5 million survivors of colorectal cancer in the United States.
Managing your diet and physical activity can help lower your risk. Overall, the most effective way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer and provide the greatest chance of survival is to get a routine colonoscopy screening. For additional resources and information about colorectal cancer screening, visit the CDC colorectal cancer website.