According to the American Cancer Society, Colorectal cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths in the US for men and women. But many colorectal cancers can be prevented or caught early, when they might be easier to treat. That’s why getting screened is so important. Learn more about colorectal cancer, screening tests, and lifesaving research.
What is Colorectal Cancer?
Colorectal cancer starts in the colon or the rectum. These cancers can also be called colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped together because they have many features in common.
Regular screening tests for cancer can improve and save your life. Screening tests can find cancer early when it may be easier to treat. It is important to know that screening tests are done when you have no signs or symptoms of disease. But if you have symptoms, contact your doctor right away.
ACS Recommendations for Colorectal Cancer Screening
The ACS recommends that people at average risk* of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45. This can be done either with a sensitive test that looks for signs of cancer in a person’s stool (a stool-based test), or with an exam that looks at the colon and rectum (a visual exam). These options are listed below.
People who are in good health and with a life expectancy of more than 10 years should continue regular colorectal cancer screening through the age of 75.
For people ages 76 through 85, the decision to be screened should be based on a person’s preferences, life expectancy, overall health, and prior screening history.
People over 85 should no longer get colorectal cancer screening.
*For screening, people are considered to be at average risk if they do not have:
- A personal history of colorectal cancer or certain types of polyps
- A family history of colorectal cancer
- A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease)
- A confirmed or suspected hereditary colorectal cancer syndrome, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome (hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC)
- A personal history of getting radiation to the abdomen (belly) or pelvic area to treat a prior cancer
Colorectal Cancer Signs and Symptoms
Colorectal cancer might not cause symptoms right away, but if it does, it may cause one or more of these symptoms:
- 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’s not relieved by having one
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in the stool, which might make the stool look dark brown or black
- Cramping or abdominal (belly) pain
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Colorectal cancers can often bleed into the digestive tract. Sometimes the blood can be seen in the stool or make it look darker, but often the stool looks normal. But over time, the blood loss can build up and can lead to low red blood cell counts (anemia). Sometimes the first sign of colorectal cancer is a blood test showing a low red blood cell count.