What is colorectal cancer?

The large intestine, or colon, aids in the digestive processes of food and liquids that we consume and prepares them for elimination from the body as waste. The rectum is the final few inches of the colon. Colorectal cancer is a harmful disease that begins when normal processes of cell division and growth are disrupted, giving way to abnormal, uncontrollable growth in the colon and rectum simultaneously. The cells grow and accumulate into clumps of cells called adenomatous polyps. These polyps in the colon usually start out as noncancerous (benign), but overtime turn cancerous (malignant).  As the disease advances, cancer may spread (metastasize) to other organs in the body. The stages of colon cancer are:
  • Stage I: cancer has penetrated into the middle layers of the colon and rectum wall but not through it.
  • Stage II: cancer has penetrated through the muscle wall of the colon and rectum but has not spread to nearby lymph nodes. 
  • Stage III: cancer has moved to lymph nodes near the colon and rectum but isn’t affecting other parts of the body yet. 
  • Stage IV: cancer has spread to lymph nodes and to distant sites in the body, such as the liver or lung.
Risk factors
  • Older age
  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Family history. Parents or siblings who have/had the disease.
  • Race. African Americans are more commonly diagnosed with colon cancer.
  • Past cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy, can cause cancers to recur. 
  • Colonoscopy: a scope is used to examine the inside of the colon and rectum.  
  • Biopsy: tissue sample removed for study under a microscope.
  • Blood tests may reveal clues about your overall health, such as kidney and liver abnormalities. 
Treatment decisions are based on the stage of colon cancer, and are aimed at decreasing signs and symptoms in order to improve length and quality of life. Treatment options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these.
  • About 5 to 10% of colorectal cancer cases are hereditary.
  • Not counting skin cancers, colorectal cancers are the third most common type of cancer in the United States.
  • More than 106,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with colon cancer each year.
  • 1 in 19 people in the U.S. (just over 5%) will develop colon or rectal cancer in their lifetimes. 
  • When colon cancer is diagnosed early, the 5-year survival rate is 90%.
about colorectal cancer

  • "Colon Cancer Symptoms & Treatments | Colorectal Cancer." Cleveland Clinic. Cleveland Clinic, n.d. Web. 29 June 2017.
  • "Colon Cancer." Colon Cancer | MD Anderson Cancer Center. The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, n.d. Web. 29 June 2017.
  • "Colon Cancer." Memorial Sloan Kettering. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, n.d. Web. 29 June 2017.
  • "Colon Cancer." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 23 Feb. 2016. Web. 29 June 2017. 


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