Is this topic for you?
This topic will tell you
about the early testing, diagnosis, and treatment of colorectal
cancer. If you want to learn about colorectal cancer that has
come back or has spread, see the topic
Colorectal Cancer, Metastatic or Recurrent. If you want to learn about anal cancer, see the topic Anal Cancer.
What is colorectal cancer?
means that cells that aren't normal are growing in your
colon or rectum . These cells grow together and form polyps. Over time, some polyps can turn into cancer.
cancer is also called colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where the cancer is. It is the third most
common cancer in the United States. And it occurs most often in people older
What causes colorectal cancer?
The exact cause of
colorectal cancer is not known. Most cases begin as
small growths, or polyps, inside the colon or rectum.
Colon polyps are very common. If they are
found early, usually through routine screening tests, they can be removed
before they turn into cancer.
What are the symptoms?
Colorectal cancer usually
doesn't cause symptoms until after it has started to spread. See your doctor if
you have any of these symptoms:
- Pain in your belly
- Blood in your
stool or very dark stools
- A change in your bowel habits, such as
more frequent stools or a feeling that your bowels are not emptying
How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?
If your doctor
thinks that you may have this cancer, you will need a test, called a
colonoscopy (say "koh-luh-NAW-skuh-pee"), that lets the doctor see the inside of
your entire colon and rectum. During this test, your doctor will remove polyps
or take tissue samples from any areas that don't look normal. The tissue will
be looked at under a microscope to see if it contains cancer.
Sometimes another test, such as a
sigmoidoscopy (say "sig-moy-DAW-skuh-pee"), is used to diagnose colorectal
How is it treated?
Colorectal cancer is usually treated with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.
How can you screen for colorectal cancer?
Screening tests can find or prevent many cases of colon and rectal cancer. They
look for a certain disease or condition before any symptoms appear. Experts
recommend routine colon cancer testing for everyone age 50 and older who has a
normal risk for colon cancer. Your doctor may recommend getting tested more often or at a younger age if you have a higher risk. Talk to your doctor about when you should be tested.
The most common screening tests are:
- Stool tests that check for signs of cancer, such as blood in the stool.
- Sigmoidoscopy. A doctor uses a
lighted scope to see the
lower portion of the intestine. This is where most colon cancers grow. Doctors
can also remove polyps during this test.
- Colonoscopy. A doctor
puts a long, flexible tube into your rectum and colon. The tube is
usually linked to a video monitor similar to a TV screen. With this test, the
doctor can see the entire large intestine.
- Computed tomographic
colonography (CTC), also called a virtual colonoscopy. A computer
and X-rays make a detailed picture of the colon to help the doctor look for
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