Colorectal Cancer
03/26/2002

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death, but if detected and treated in its early stages, it is 95 percent curable.

Cancer occurs when abnormal cells in part of the body begin to grow out of control.  If the cells continue to multiply when new cells are not needed, a mass of extra tissue called a tumor forms. The tumor can be either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Colorectal cancer begins in either the colon or the rectum. The colon and the rectum are a part of the gastrointestinal tract where food is processed to create energy and rid the body of waste matter.

The causes of colorectal cancer are not known, but you can take steps to reduce your risk. If you are 50 years old or older, you should get regular screenings. Colorectal cancer is often treatable and curable when detected early. If you have a family history of colorectal cancer, check with your doctor for advice about screening tests. To help prevent colorectal cancer be sure to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods, avoid high-fat foods, increase your intake of fiber, and exercise on a regular basis.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the death rate from colorectal cancer has been going down for the past 20 years. This may be because there are fewer cases, because more of the cases are found early, and also because treatments have improved.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer, according to ACS, include a change in bowel habits such as:

  • Diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
  • A feeling that you need to have a bowel movement that doesn’t go away after doing so
  • Bleeding from the rectum or blood in the stool
  • Cramping or steady stomach pain
  • Weight loss with no known reason

Just because you have these symptoms does not mean you have cancer, but you should talk to your doctor to be sure. Early diagnosis and treatment is the key to surviving colorectal cancer.

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Talk to your doctor about screenings for this disease.