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Colorectal Cancer Screening FAQs

What is colorectal cancer?
Colon and rectal cancers begin in the digestive system, also called the GI (gastrointestinal) system. The wall of the colon and rectum is made up of layers of tissues. Colorectal cancer starts in the inner layer of the bowel and can grow through all layers. The stage (extent of spread) of a cancer depends to a great degree on how deep the cancer penetrates these layers. Most colorectal cancers start as a benign polyp or growth of tissue protruding from the wall of the bowel. Over time, these benign polyps can become cancerous. Removing a polyp early may keep it from becoming cancer.

What are risk factors of colorectal cancer?

  • Age 50 or older
  • History of polyps or colorectal cancer
  • History of inflammatory bowel diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease
  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • African Americans and Jews of Eastern European descent (Ashkenazi Jews)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • A diet that is high in red meats and processed meats
  • Cooking meats at very high heat
  • Obesity
  • A history of smoking
  • Heavy use of alcohol

What are symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer may cause one or more of the symptoms below. If you have any of the following you should see your doctor:

  • 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 is not relieved by doing so
  • Rectal bleeding, dark stools, or blood in the stool
  • Cramping or abdominal pain
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss

Most of these symptoms are more often caused by conditions other than colorectal cancer, such as infection, hemorrhoids, or inflammatory bowel disease. However, if you have any of these problems, it's important to see your doctor right away so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

Is there a screening test for colorectal cancer?
Regular colorectal cancer screening or testing is one of the most powerful tools for preventing colorectal cancer. Colonoscopy is recommended beginning at age 50 for both men and women if there are no known risk factors for colon cancer. However, if there is an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer due to a known family history, screening at an earlier age may be appropriate.

More Information on Colon Cancer:

Last Updated: 3/10/2014