Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cancer killer in the United States—but it doesn’t have to be. By getting regular recommended screenings, your doctor can detect colorectal cancer early , when it is most treatable, or prevent it from developing in the first place.
Cancer occurs when abnormal cells in your body begin multiplying too quickly, causing a lump of tissue known as a tumor.
The colon, also called the large intestine or large bowel, is a muscular tube that forms the last part of the digestive tract. It absorbs water and stores food waste. The colon is about 4-6 feet long. When cancer forms in the colon, it is called colon cancer.
The last six inches of your colon is called the rectum; cancer of the rectum is called rectal cancer. When talking about colon and rectal cancer together, it is called colorectal cancer.
The colon and rectum have a lining composed of millions of cells. When these cells go through abnormal changes, colon polyps can develop. If left untreated for 5-10 years, these colon polyps can turn into cancer.
Colorectal cancer can cause symptoms including:
If you are having symptoms of colorectal cancer, it is important that you let your doctor know right away. Your doctor may order a colonoscopy or other tests to find the cause of your symptoms. Although colorectal cancer is usually quite serious by the time the symptoms are noticeable, these symptoms also can point to other less-serious conditions, such as hemorrhoids or anal fissures.
Colorectal cancer is usually diagnosed during a colonoscopy, which is a test that allows your doctor to check your colon and rectum for signs of colorectal cancer or colon polyps. If your doctor finds colorectal cancer, he or she will work closely with you to develop a treatment plan that may include:
The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to have a colonoscopy. If you are at high risk of developing colorectal cancer or if you are experiencing symptoms, your doctor may recommend having screenings starting at an earlier age.
A colonoscopy is the best colorectal cancer screening test because it also can prevent colorectal cancer. If your doctor recommends that you have a colonoscopy, it’s important to schedule the exam as soon as possible. Waiting too long to have the exam could increase your risk of developing colorectal cancer or, if colon cancer is found, decrease your chances of survival.
If you are having symptoms of colorectal cancer or think you may be at high risk of developing the condition, don’t wait—contact your primary care provider to discuss what you should do.