Skip to content

Colorectal Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Colorectal Cancer Prevention (PDQ®): Prevention - Patient Information [NCI] - General Information About Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the colon or the rectum.

The colon is part of the body's digestive system. The digestive system removes and processes nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water) from foods and helps pass waste material out of the body. The digestive system is made up of the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, and the small and large intestines. The first 6 feet of the large intestine are called the large bowel or colon. The last 6 inches are the rectum and the anal canal. The anal canal ends at the anus (the opening of the large intestine to the outside of the body).
cdr0000415499.jpg
Anatomy of the lower digestive system, showing the colon and other organs.

Cancer that begins in the colon is called colon cancer, and cancer that begins in the rectum is called rectal cancer. Cancer that affects either of these organs may also be called colorectal cancer.

See the following PDQ summaries for more information about colorectal cancer:

  • Colorectal Cancer Screening
  • Colon Cancer Treatment
  • Rectal Cancer Treatment
  • Genetics of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States.

The number of new colorectal cancer cases and the number of deaths from colorectal cancer are both decreasing a little bit each year. However, in adults younger than 50 years, the number of new colorectal cancer cases has slowly increased since 1998.

Finding and treating colorectal cancer early may prevent death from colorectal cancer. Screening tests may be used to help find colorectal cancer.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

    Last Updated: September 04, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
    1
    Next Article:

    Today on WebMD

    Colorectal cancer cells
    The right diagnosis is the most important factor.
    man with a doctor
    Our health check will steer you in the right direction.
     
    sauteed cherry tomatoes
    Fight cancer one plate at a time.
    bladder cancer x-ray
    Do you know the warning signs?
     
    bread
    ARTICLE
    Colon vs Rectal Cancer
    VIDEO
     
    New Colorectal Treatments
    VIDEO
    can lack of sleep affect your immune system
    FEATURE
     
    Cancer Facts Quiz
    QUIZ
    Virtual Colonoscopy
    VIDEO
     
    Picture of the Colon
    ANATOMY
    Vitamin D
    SLIDESHOW
     

    WebMD Special Sections