Colorectal Cancer

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What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a combined term that includes both colon cancer and rectal cancer. Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine also known as the colon which is the lower part of the digestive system. Rectal cancer is cancer of the rectum which is the last few inches of your colon closest to the anus. Almost all colon and rectal cancers start in benign polyps.

What are the risk factors?

Generally, you are at risk for colorectal cancer at age 50 or over. You are also at risk if you have a family history of colorectal cancer and polyps and a personal history of ulcerative colitis, colon polyps or cancer of other organs, especially of the uterus, urinary tract, biliary tract, as well as breast (although there is some controversy as to whether there is a link to breast cancer).

What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Rectal bleeding, mucous discharge, changes in bowel habits, (constipation or diarrhea) abdominal pain and weight loss are all symptoms of colorectal cancer but unfortunately they are usually late signs of advanced disease.

Can colorectal cancer be prevented?

Colorectal cancer is preventable. The most important step towards preventing colorectal cancer is getting a screening test. A screening test that shows any abnormalities should then be followed up by a more thorough colonoscopy. Currently, we prefer to start with colonoscopy as a first screening test.

For more information on screening please go to the Colonoscopy & Colorectal Screening section.

What treatment is available?

Surgery is necessary in almost all cases in order to achieve a cure. Radiation and chemotherapy are sometimes used in addition to surgery. Statistically, if the cancer is diagnosed in the early stages and treated properly the cure rate is at least 80%. However, if diagnosed in the later stages less than half of all patients have a chance for a cure.

Will I ever need a colostomy?

In general it is very unlikely that you will end up with a permanent colostomy. Statistically, less than 10% of the patients who undergo surgery for colorectal cancer end up needing a permanent colostomy.

For more information on colostomy please go to the About Ostomy section.