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Frequently Asked Questions

Healthcare Related Questions, Answered for You

What is colorectal cancer?

Cancer is a group of diseases in which there is abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells in the body. If left untreated, malignant (or cancerous) cells can spread to other parts of the body. "Colorectal" refers to the colon and rectum, which together make up the large intestine. Colorectal cancer can begin anywhere in the large intestine. The majority of colorectal cancers begin as polyps—abnormal growths—inside the colon or rectum that may become cancers over a long period of time.

What causes colorectal cancer, and who is at risk of developing it?

The exact cause of most colorectal cancers is not yet known. About 75% of colorectal cancers occur in people with no known risk factors. Some conditions that may increase a person's risk of developing colorectal cancer include having—

A personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
Inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease).
A genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome). (Just 5% of colorectal cancers are linked to these genetic syndromes.)

What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Colorectal polyps and colorectal cancer don't always cause symptoms, especially at first. Someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. That is why getting screened regularly for colorectal cancer is so important.

If there are symptoms, they may include—

Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement).
Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that don't go away.
Losing weight and you don't know why.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. However, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your doctor

Is there anything I can do to reduce my risk for colorectal cancer?

There is strong scientific evidence that having regular screening tests for colorectal cancer beginning at age 50 reduces deaths from colorectal cancer. Screening tests can find precancerous polyps (abnormal growths) in the colon and rectum, and polyps can be removed before they turn into cancer. Studies have also shown that increased physical activity and maintaining a healthy weight can decrease the risk for colorectal cancer. Evidence is less clear about other ways to prevent colorectal cancer. Research is underway to determine whether dietary changes may decrease the risk for colorectal cancer. Currently, there is no consensus on the role of diet in preventing colorectal cancer, but medical experts recommend a diet low in animal fats and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grain products to reduce the risk of other chronic diseases, such as coronary artery disease and diabetes. This diet also may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer. In addition, researchers are examining the role of certain medications and supplements, including aspirin, calcium, vitamin D, and selenium in preventing colorectal cancer. Overall, the most effective way to reduce your risk of colorectal cancer is by having regular colorectal cancer screening tests beginning at age 50.

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