From the American Gastroenterological Association
What is Colorectal Cancer?
- Almost all cases of colorectal cancer, also referred to as colon cancer, begin with the development of benign colonic polyps.
- Polyps form when cells lining the colon grow, divide and reproduce in an unhealthy, disorderly way, producing a growth.
- These polyps can be cancerous, invading the colon wall and surrounding blood vessels, and spreading to other parts of the body.
- Colorectal cancer frequently begins without symptoms.
What causes Colorectal Cancer?
- The exact causes of colorectal cancer are unknown, but the disease appears to be caused by both inherited and lifestyle factors.
- Diets high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables – such as those that include red meat, fried foods and high-fat dairy products – may increase the risk of colorectal cancer.
- Lifestyle factors – such as cigarette smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity – also may increase the risk of developing the disease.
- Genetic factors may determine a person's susceptibility to the disease, whereas dietary and other lifestyle factors may determine which at-risk individuals actually go on to develop the disease.
How Common is Colorectal Cancer?
- Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, and the third most common cancer overall.
- This year, more than 50,000 Americans will die from colorectal cancer and approximately 131,600 new cases will be diagnosed.
- Eighty to 90 million Americans (approximately 25 percent of the U.S. population) are considered at risk because of age or other factors.
- More women over the age of 75 die from colorectal cancer than from breast cancer.
Who is at Risk?
- Men and women aged 50 and older are at almost equal risk of developing colorectal cancer.
- Those who have a personal or family history of colorectal neoplasia (cancer or polyps) are at high risk of developing the disease.
- Anyone who has a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, is also at high risk.
- Although the incidence of colorectal cancer appears to be the same among all racial groups, survival rates seem to be lower for African-Americans.
How Can You Prevent Colorectal Cancer?
- Know your family history.
- See your doctor for yearly screenings if you are aged 50 or older.
- Maintain a diet low in animal fat and high in fruits, vegetables and fiber.
- Exercise regularly.
- Prevent obesity.
- Avoid cigarette smoking.
What You Need to Know...
- Early detection saves lives – colorectal cancer is preventable, even curable when detected early.
- If colorectal cancer is found early enough, the patient has more than a 90 percent chance of survival.
- Colorectal cancer screenings are safe and effective and are now covered by Medicare and an increasing number of other health providers.
- Several screening methods can be used to detect polyps before they become cancerous, such as fecal occult blood test, colonoscopy, flexible sigmoidoscopy and barium x-ray. These tests also can detect cancer in its early stages.