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Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer: Introduction

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that grows within the colon, also called the large intestine. A cancer that grows in the last section of the colon, the rectum, is often called rectal cancer and a cancer that grows in other areas of the colon is often referred to as colon cancer. Colorectal cancer most often develops in the lower areas of the intestine.

Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common cancer in adults, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is highly curable if caught early. However, untreated colorectal cancer can grow through the intestinal wall and spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver and lungs, and become terminal.

Colorectal cancer often develops from noncancerous adenomatous intestinal polyps in the colon that can become malignant or cancerous over time. The exact cause of colorectal cancer is unknown, but having adenomatous intestinal polyps that are not removed while still benign increases the risk of developing the disease. Other people at risk include those who smoke or eat a high fat, low-fiber diet. Advancing age, especially over 50 years is another risk factor, and those with ulcerative colitis or a family history of colorectal cancer are also at increased risk.

In their early stages, adenomatous intestinal polyps often produce no symptoms. As cancer develops, symptoms can include a change in bowel movements, bloating and abdominal discomfort, intestinal obstruction, and/or rectal bleeding. Some people may experience no symptoms at all. For more information on symptoms, refer to symptoms of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer can be detected and diagnosed using a combination of tests, including a fecal occult blood test, a colonoscopy, virtual colonoscopy and/or a barium X-ray of the colon. Another important part of the diagnostic process includes taking a thorough health history, including symptoms, and performing a physical exam and digital rectal exam.

Because there may be no symptoms and because some symptoms are similar to those of other conditions, such as hemorrhoids, it is possible that a diagnosis of colorectal cancer can be missed or delayed. For more information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of colorectal cancer.

Treatment of colorectal cancer varies, depending on the type of cancer, its location, the stage of advancement of the disease and other factors. If colorectal cancer is in its very earliest stage, has not spread to other organs outside of the colon, and is limited to the inside of the polyp, surgical removal of the polyp may be all that is needed. If colorectal cancer has gone beyond this stage or spread outside the colon, treatment may require a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of colorectal cancer. ...more »

Colorectal cancer: Colorectal cancer refers to cancer of the colon (bowel) or cancer of the rectum, depending on the region affected. It is an under-diagnosed condition because it has no early symptoms. Even when symptoms occur, both the symptoms and the diagnostic tests required are considered embarrassing by many, leading to delayed diagnosis. However, early diagnosis is crucial as colon cancer is a leading cause of death. ...more »

Colorectal cancer: Animations

Colorectal cancer: Broader Related Topics


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