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Colorectal cancer – know the risks and help prevent

*Content sourced from the Colorectal Cancer Alliance and Fight Colorectal Cancer – visit their websites for more information.*

Colorectal cancer (cancer that starts in the colon or rectum) is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined in the United States. The American Cancer Society estimates that 147,950 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 53,200 could die from this disease in 2020.

On average, the lifetime risk of developing colon cancer is about one in 23 for men and women combined (4.5%), however, this varies widely according to individual risk factors.

About 71% of cases arise in the colon and about 29% in the rectum.

Colorectal cancer survival rates

Since the mid-1980s, the colorectal cancer survival rate has been increasing, due in part to increased awareness and screening. By finding polyps and cancer in the earlier stages, it is easiest to treat. Improved treatment options have also contributed to a rise in survival rates.

Survival Rates

  • The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer found at the local stage is 90%.
  • The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer found at the regional stage is 71%.
  • The five-year survival rate for colorectal cancer found at the distant stage is 14%.

There are currently more than one million colorectal cancer survivors alive in the US.

Common symptoms:

  • An ongoing change in bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely)
  • Stools that are narrower, or thinner, than usual 
  • Blood (either bright red or very dark) in the stool 
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Frequent gas pains, bloating, a feeling of fullness, or abdominal cramps
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Feeling very tired (weakness and fatigue)

Tell your doctor if something doesn’t seem right, even if it’s not in this list of symptoms. Not all patients experience the same signs. Pay attention to your body and always go to your doctor to discover why certain symptoms may be occurring.

The symptoms will also differ in severity based on the cancer’s location in the colon or rectum, size, and growth. Some colorectal cancer symptoms are most noticeable through changes with your digestive tract, but others can impact your entire body. 

Regular screenings are key

Symptoms of early-stage colorectal cancer are not always obvious or visible. Oftentimes it’s only when colorectal cancer has grown into late-stage cancer or spread that symptoms appear.

Screening is the No. 1 way you can reduce your risk of colon cancer and rectal cancer. 

With screening, colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are also highly treatable if caught early. That’s why on-time screening is essential and lifesaving!

Starting at age 45, everyone needs to discuss colorectal cancer screening with their doctor, regardless of symptoms. A person’s individual risk factors—such as those with symptoms, a family history of the disease, or certain medical conditions—may affect when and how often screening should occur.

Click to make an appointment with a gastroenteorlogist near you and set up your screening.