Understanding colon cancer

Consulting with doctor during regular screenings

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the United States and the second leading cause in men. It is expected to cause about 50,260 deaths during 2017.1 It develops in the colon or rectum, usually as a small growth called a polyp. Because it can take several years for the polyp to develop into cancer, regular screening can often help prevent colorectal cancer. How? By finding polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous.

What are colorectal cancer symptoms?

Don’t wait to experience symptoms before you take action. The American Cancer Society (ACS) recommends screening for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50 for most people. Chances of developing colorectal cancer increase a great deal after age 50. But even if you are under 50, it’s important to ask your doctor if you should begin getting tested earlier.

When colon cancer does have symptoms, they may include:

  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in your stool
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • Frequently having gas pains or cramps, or feeling full or bloated
  • Weight loss with no known reason
  • Feeling very tired all the time
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Change in bowel habits

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer, but early cancer often doesn’t cause pain, so don’t wait to feel pain before seeing a doctor. When colorectal cancer is detected early, it can have a 90 percent or better cure rate.2

Amazingly, an estimated 60 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be prevented if men and women aged 50 and older were screened routinely; however, only 61 percent of this group gets screened.1

  1. www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/about/key-statistics.html (link opens in new window)
  2. www.cancer.org/cancer/colon-rectal-cancer/detection-diagnosis-staging/survival-rates.html (link opens in new window)
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