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​Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum in the lower part of the digestive system.  Colorectal cancer can also be referred to as colon cancer.  Some individuals develop polyps, which are abnormal growths, within the colon or rectum.  Over time, some of these polyps may develop into colorectal cancer.  Almost all colorectal cancers begin as a precancerous polyp.

In Pennsylvania Colorectal Cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death behind lung cancer.  Although incidence and death rates in Pennsylvania are improving, they are still higher than the national average.

Risk Factors

  • Age
    As individuals age, their risk of developing colorectal cancer increases, with more than 90 percent of the cases occurring in individuals who are 50 or older.
  • Personal or family history
    Having colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, or being related to someone that has increases your risk of getting colorectal cancer.
  • Genetic syndromes
    Having familial adenomatous polyps (FAP) or Lynch syndrome increases your risk.
  • Lifestyle Factors
    • The factors below may also increase your risk:
    • Lack of regular physical activity;
    • Low fruit and vegetable intake;
    • A low-fiber and high-fat diet;
    • Overweight and obesity;
    • Alcohol consumption; and
    • Tobacco use.

Reduce the Risk

Since almost all colorectal cancers start as a precancerous polyp, colorectal cancer screening can be used to find and remove these polyps before an individual develops cancer.  These polyps can be present for many years without causing any symptoms, which is why screening is so important.  The screening can prevent cancer altogether by removing the precancerous polyp before it becomes cancer or can detect colorectal cancer early.  Early detection provides the greatest chance the treatment will be effective and lead to a cure. 

It is recommended that individuals begin screening at age 50 through age 75.  There are three methods for colorectal screening: high sensitivity fecal occult blood testing, sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.  Talk to your doctor about which screening method is right for you and how often you should have it done.

Signs and Symptoms

Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer may not cause any symptoms, especially early on.  Because there may not be symptoms, it is very important for individuals to get screened regularly to try and catch the cancer before it begins or in early stages.

If symptoms are present they may include:

  • blood in or on your stool (bowel movement);
  • stomach pain, aches, or cramps that don't go away; and
  • losing weight without knowing.