Colorectal Cancer Q&A

Colorectal cancer affects thousands of patients in the United States each year

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Anyssa Garza, PharmD

Over 136,000 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States last year, reports the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Here's what you need to know.

Although colorectal cancer is a potentially deadly disease and should be taken seriously, there is some good news. You can take measures to help lower your risk and catch it early. And, because of screening and improved treatments, more patients are surviving longer, according to the FDA.

Here are some common questions and answers about colorectal cancer to help you stay informed.

Q: What Is Colorectal Cancer?

A: Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the colon or rectum. It is the second most deadly form of cancer in the United States, according to the FDA.

Symptoms that could indicate colorectal cancer, and for which you should see a doctor, include but are not limited to vomiting, fatigue, dark or bright blood in the stool, a change in bowel habits, stools that are narrower than normal and unexplained weight loss.

As is the case with any cancer, colorectal cancer can spread from the colon or rectum (metastasize) to other parts of the body, meaning the disease has become advanced.

Q: What Are Some Colorectal Cancer Risk Factors?

A: According to the FDA, common risk factors for colorectal cancer include diabetes, certain genetic syndromes, a personal or family history of colorectal cancer, smoking and a history of inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.

Q: How Can I Reduce My Colorectal Cancer Risk?

A: Past research has found several factors that may reduce colorectal cancer risk, according to the FDA, and most of them are part of a healthy overall lifestyle. These measures include not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight.

Q: What Is Colorectal Cancer Screening?

A: Colorectal cancer screening is a process in which a doctor uses one of several kinds of tests to check you for signs of the disease. Colorectal cancer screening methods include but are not limited to colonoscopies, fecal blood tests, stool DNA tests, flexible sigmoidoscopy and computed tomography colonography.

Each of these screening methods has a different interval for how frequently you should be screened.

Screening can help your doctor catch colorectal cancer early. When cancer is caught early, the patient usually has a higher chance of survival.

Your doctor can help you decide which screening test and screening interval is right for you, but the FDA notes that people with an average risk of colorectal cancer should start regular screening around age 50.

Review Date: 
April 8, 2016