Anyone with a colon can get colorectal cancer – a collective term that includes both colon cancer and rectal cancer. In the United States, it’s the second leading cause of cancer deaths in men and women. It's estimated that in 2012, 144,000 new cases will be diagnosed and that more than 51,000 people will die of this form of cancer. The lifetime chance of developing colorectal cancer is 1 in 20, with women facing a slightly lower risk than men.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends colorectal cancer screening beginning at age 50 for both women and men.
Did You Know?
Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will cover preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, at no cost to you. Learn more.
Overall, only about 6% of men in the U.S. develop colorectal cancer, but several factors increase your risk:
Age: Men younger than 40 almost never develop colorectal cancer. Over 90% of the cases are in men over 50.
Family History: If people in your immediate family or near relations had colorectal cancer at a young age, you should be screened earlier.
Previous Colorectal Cancer: If you've had cancer removed already, you're at higher risk to develop a new one.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease: If you have had a condition such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis for several years, your risk of colorectal cancer goes up.
Certain lifestyle factors appear to raise the risk of colorectal cancer. They include:
Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks per day.
A high-fat diet, with fat coming mostly from meat.
What Is Colorectal Cancer?
The colon is the large intestine and the rectum is the last six inches of intestine, connecting the colon to the anus. In the U.S., for both sexes, about 72% of cancer cases occur in the colon and 28% in the rectum.
Colorectal cancer usually develops slowly, beginning first as small growth called a polyp. Polyps may grow larger and eventually turn into cancer. The entire process of a polyp transforming into cancer usually takes several years.
After cancer develops, it grows into the wall of the colon and eventually metastasizes, or spreads. Most of the time, this process is preventable with proper screening.
Colorectal cancer symptoms include change in bowel habits (diarrhea or constipation), blood in the stool, black stools, abdominal pain, and weakness.