Colorectal Cancer


​What is colorectal cancer?

When cancer starts in the colon or rectum, it is called colorectal cancer. It is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and cause of cancer-related deaths of men and women in the United States and Indiana. The lifetime risk of developing it is one in 20.

*In 2013 it is estimated that more than 3,000 new cases and more than 1,200 deaths will occur in Indiana. The overall incidence has decreased due to improved regular screening.

Risk factors

The most common risk factor is age. The risk increases with age, but younger adults can get colorectal cancer, especially if other risk factors are present. More than 90% of people diagnosed with colorectal cancer in Indiana were 50 and over.

Other risk factors include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis)

  • Personal history or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps

  • Inherited  syndromes : Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) or Hereditary Non-Polyposis Colorectal Cancer (HCPCC) also known as Lynch Syndrome

Lifestyle related risk factors include:

  • Diet high in red and processed meat

  • High-fat, low fiber diet

  • Obesity

  • Smoking

  • Physical inactivity

  • Heavy alcohol use


Polyps can grow in the colon and become cancerous. Often colorectal cancer can be prevented by removing polyps during colonoscopy.

Other prevention methods include:

  • Eating  a low-fat, high fiber diet

  • Limiting the amount of red and processed meat

  • Increasing physical activity

  • Maintaining a healthy weight

  • Not smoking and limiting intake of alcohol


Often, when it is early, there are no symptoms. That is why regular screening is important.

When symptoms do occur, there may be a change in bowel habits, blood in the stool, stomach pain or cramps, unintended weight loss, weakness, and fatigue.

Screening recommendations

For individuals at average risk, begin screening at age 50. You should get a colonoscopy every 10 years and a fecal occult blood test (FOBT) every year. The frequency of colonoscopy may be more often based on results of the colonoscopy (For example, if polyps are detected then the frequency may be every 3 years).

For individuals at high risk, begin screening before age 50 (usually at age 40 or 10 years before the youngest case in the immediate family, whichever is earlier) and the screening is more often (colonoscopy every 5 years instead of 10).

Prevention and early detection through screening is critical to survival.

Colorectal cancer can be prevented by removing polyps that are seen during colonoscopy.

Depending on the stage, treatment includes surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy. Treatments may be combined at the same time or given one after another.

Overall survival depends on the stage of cancer. The earlier the stage, the better chance of survival.

*Information provided by the American Cancer Society.

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