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Colorectal cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissues along the inner walls of the colon or rectum. The disease typically begins as benign tumors called polyps, which may remain in the colon for several years before becoming cancerous. While not all polyps become cancerous, a small percentage of them eventually do. Preventive colon cancer screening is available to identify and remove these polyps before they become cancerous. Unfortunately, many polyps are not identified and are allowed to progress into malignancy, resulting in a diagnosis of cancer.
Do you know?
Colorectal cancer often produces few or no symptoms in its earliest stages. It is often referred to as a ‘silent disease’, in that it typically produces symptoms only after it has progressed. That is why screening is so important, as routine colonoscopies and other exams can pinpoint even the smallest polyps or cancerous lesions before they can spread. When it does produce symptoms, they may include narrow bowel movements, cause bloody stools, bloating or abdominal pain.. Some people also experience changes in bowel habits, such as constipation or diarrhea, and many report unexplained weight loss and fatigue.
Anyone can develop colon cancer, though it is most prevalent in men and women ages 50 and older. It is at this age that people with average risk for the disease should begin screenings for the disease and the pre-cancerous polyps that cause it. Some people – specifically those with ulcerative colitis, a family history of colon cancer, and people of African American descent –should begin screening for colon cancer earlier, as they are at increased risk of the disease.
Colon cancer treatments have improved significantly in recent years, improving long-term outcomes for many patients. Depending on the stage of a patient’s disease, treatment may involve surgery to remove the cancer, affected portions of the colon and any affected lymph nodes, as well as additional treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.