Colorectal Cancer Information and Prevention

Quick Facts

Colorectal cancer is a disease in which cancer cells form in either the tissues of the colon (the longest part of the large intestine) or the rectum (the last several inches of the large intestine).

The colon and rectum are parts of the body’s digestive system, which removes and processes nutrients from foods and helps pass waste material out of the body. Together, colon and rectal cancer are referred to as colorectal cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, the 2011 estimates for colorectal cancer in the United States are:

  • 141,210 new cases of colorectal cancer
  • 49,380 deaths from colorectal cancer
  • Both men and women are at risk
  • Of cancers affecting both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States.
  • Screening saves lives and can find precancerous polyps so they can be removed before they turn into cancer.


Polyps and early cancer may not cause pain or symptoms, so it is important to get regular screening. Do not wait to feel pain before seeing a doctor.

A common symptom of colorectal cancer is a change in bowel habits. Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts more than a few days
  • Feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
  • Rectal bleeding, dark stools, or blood in the stool
  • Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Losing weight with no known reason

Risk Factors

People over the age of 50 are at the highest risk for colorectal cancer. Other risk factors may include:

  • Growths (called polyps) inside the colon
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Health conditions like ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Being African American

You can reduce your risks if you:

  • Are physically active and exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans and whole grains
  • Consume calcium-rich foods like low-fat or skim milk
  • Limit red meat consumption and avoid processed meats
  • Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends screening for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50. If you are at greater risk, you may need to begin regular screening at an earlier age. The best time to get screened is before any symptoms appear. Screening options for colorectal cancer include:

  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT)
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy

Remember that many cases of colorectal cancer can be prevented.

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