Colorectal cancer is a common cancer and is the third leading cause of cancer deaths among American men and women. Colorectal cancer arises from cells in the inner lining of the large intestine (colon) and/or the inner lining of the rectum at the end of the digestive tract. Colorectal cancer is preventable, and it is highly curable if caught in its early stages.
Polyps: Colorectal cancer usually begins as a non-cancerous polyp, or growth, on the inner lining of the colon. During a colonoscopy, these polyps can be detected and removed before they become cancerous, which is why having a regular colonoscopy is so important in preventing colorectal cancer.
The two most common types of polyps are:
- Hyperplastic and inflammatory polyps, which do not usually become cancerous.
- Adenomas or adenomatous polyps, which can become cancerous if not removed.
In addition to developing from polyps, colorectal cancer may also develop from areas of abnormal cells (called dysplasia), which is most common in people who have Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and other inflammatory bowel diseases.
At Yale Colon & Rectal Surgery, we understand that a diagnosis of cancer can be frightening. Our nationally renowned surgeons and specialists offer compassionate care and individualized attention to help you through every step of your surgery. Our patients receive treatment at Smilow Cancer Hospital of Yale-New Haven, a world-class cancer care center that offers the latest diagnostic and treatment technologies, educational and supportive resources, and a warm, welcoming environment.
A risk factor is anything that increases the chance for developing a disease. The most common risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
- A personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps
- A diet high in red meats and processed meats
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis)
- Familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Heavy alcohol use
- Type 2 diabetes
Having one or more of the above risk factors does not mean that you will develop colorectal cancer and polyps. Understanding your risk factors will help you determine, what, if any, precautions and special screening you should consider.
Early colorectal cancer usually has no associated symptoms. It grows slowly over time and does not produce symptoms until it is larger.
The earliest sign of colorectal cancer may be bleeding. Tumors may bleed small amounts every so often and is usually not visible to the naked eye. The blood can be found during a chemical testing of the stool.
When tumors are larger, the most common symptoms include:
- A persistent change in bowel movements (such as constipation or diarrhea).
- Blood on or in the stool
- Abdominal discomfort
- Unexplained weight loss
If you have any of the above symptoms, it does not mean that you have colorectal cancer. If you think you may have colorectal cancer, please contact your doctor.