Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society. Each year about 150,000 new cases are diagnosed, and approximately 50,000 Americans die from colorectal cancer.

These are sad statistics, made even sadder by the fact that the great majority of these cancers and deaths could be prevented. Colorectal cancer usually develops slowly over a period of many years. About 96 percent of colorectal cancers develop from noncancerous polyps called adenomatous polyps, or adenomas. According to the American Cancer Society, more than half of all individuals will eventually develop one or more adenomas. Detecting and removing these polyps can actually will prevent cancer from occurring.

Once cancer forms in the large intestine, in time it can grow through the lining and into the wall of the colon or rectum. Cancers that have invaded the wall can also penetrate blood vessels and lymph vessels. Cancer cells typically spread first into nearby lymph nodes and can also be carried in blood vessels to the liver or lungs, or can spread within the abdominal cavity to other areas.

The key to preventing colorectal cancer is screening. Everyone should be screened when they turn 50 years of age regardless of gender, family history or symptoms. The biggest impact is not necessarily finding the cancer the patient didnít know they had, but in removing those polyps that might someday become cancer.

The earlier you catch it, the better. If you have symptoms, get screened. If you have a family history, get screened. If you donít have symptoms or a family history and youíre 50 or over, get screened.

Whoís at risk?

More than 90 percent of new cases and deaths occur in people age 50 and older.

Among risk factors for colorectal cancer, a family history of colon cancer is significant especially a first-degree relative like a parent or sibling, or two second-degree relatives like a grandparent or uncle. Other risk factors include colorectal polyps, chronic inflammatory bowel disease such as ulcerative colitis, Crohnís disease, or having previously had colorectal cancer. Risk factors that can be modified include smoking, physical inactivity, obesity and diet.

Did you know?

  • Most insurance generally covers screening colonoscopies.
  • Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.
  • Six percent of people will develop colon cancer in their lifetime.
  • Colon cancers virtually always start as a colonic polyp.
  • Colon cancer is almost completely preventable by removing polyps.