Colorectal Cancer

What is Colorectal Cancer?

Almost all cases of colorectal cancer, also referred to as colon cancer, begin with the development of benign colonic polyps.

Polyps form when cells lining the colon grow, divide and reproduce in an unhealthy, disorderly way, producing a growth.

These polyps can be cancerous, invading the colon wall and surrounding blood vessels, and spreading to other parts of the body.

Colorectal cancer frequently begins without symptoms.

What Causes Colorectal Cancer?

The exact causes of colorectal cancer are unknown, but the disease appears to be caused by both inherited and lifestyle factors.

Diets high in fat and low in fruits and vegetables - such as those that include red meat, fried foods and high-fat dairy products - may increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Lifestyle factors - such as cigarette smoking, a sedentary lifestyle, and obesity - also may increase the risk of developing the disease.

Genetic factors may determine a person's susceptibility to the disease, whereas dietary and other lifestyle factors may determine which at-risk individuals actually go on to develop the disease.

How Common is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, and the third most common cancer overall.

This year, more than 50,000 Americans will die from colorectal cancer and approximately 131,600 new cases will be diagnosed.

Eighty to 90 million Americans (approximately 25 percent of the US population) are considered at risk because of age or other factors.

More women over the age of 75 die from colorectal cancer than from breast cancer.

Who Is At Risk?

Men and women aged 50 and older are at almost equal risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Those who have a personal or family history of colorectal neoplasia (cancer or polyps) are at high risk of developing the disease.

Anyone who has a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease, is also at high risk.

Although the incidence of colorectal cancer appears to be the same among all racial groups, survival rates seem to be lower for African-Americans.

How Can You Prevent Colorectal Cancer?
  • Know your family history.
  • See your doctor for yearly screenings if you are aged 50 or older.
  • Maintain a diet low in animal fat and high in fruits, vegetables and fiber.
  • Exercise regularly.