Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the United States, with over 140,000 people diagnosed each year. It can occur in any part of the large intestine, generally starting in the rectum or colon. Colorectal cancer can often be treated successfully if it’s caught early. Committing to undergo regular screenings and better understanding the symptoms of cancer can help in preventing and/or treatment.
The Colon and Rectum
To better understand colorectal cancer, it helps to understand the structure of the colon and rectum. The colon, also called the large intestine, is a long, coiled tube at the end of the digestive tract. The intestine’s job is to absorb water and nutrients from the food that has been digested in the small intestine. It also stores solid waste until it leaves the body through the rectum and anus as a bowel movement.
Cancer begins when healthy cells in the colon or rectum develop changes in their DNA. These cells begin to grow out of control and form a tumor. Most colorectal cancers start as noncancerous polyps, which are abnormal growths on the lining of the colon or rectum. Over time, some polyps can become cancerous.
Colorectal cancer often starts with no symptoms. That’s why regular colorectal cancer screenings are so important. When colorectal cancer does cause symptoms, they may include:
- Blood in your stool or rectum
- A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
- Cramping or pain in your abdomen
- Feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
- Weakness or fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor right away. These symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome or hemorrhoids. Only a doctor can tell you for sure.
If colorectal cancer is found early, it can often be successfully treated. The treatment options depend on the stage of cancer, which is how far it has spread. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or targeted therapy. Clinical trials may also be an option.
Colorectal cancer screenings are one of the most effective ways to prevent colorectal cancer or catch it early. The CDC & the American Cancer Society recommends that people at average risk for colorectal cancer start regular screenings at age 45. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer or other risk factors, you may need to start screenings earlier.
There are several different types of colorectal cancer screenings. Some of the most common include colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy, and stool tests. Talk to your doctor about which screening option is right for you.
Colorectal cancer is a serious disease, but it doesn’t have to be a death sentence. With early detection and treatment, many people can and do survive colorectal cancer. Don’t delay in getting screened. It could save your life.