Aspirus Regional Cancer Center

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer refers to cancer of both the colon and the rectum, and it is the second most common cancer in both men and women. Colon and rectum cancer share many of the same features, so they are often referred to together as colorectal.

Some risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
  • Age – Most people who have colorectal cancer are older than 50, but it can occur at any age.
  • Polyps – Benign growths on the wall of the colon or rectum are common in people older than 50, and are believed to lead to colorectal cancer.
  • Personal history – People who have had colorectal cancer, as well as ovarian, uterine or breast cancers have a slightly increased risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Family history – People with a strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps have an increased risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Ulcerative colitis – People who have ulcerative colitis, an inflamed lining of the colon, have an increased risk for colorectal cancer.
  • High-fat and/or low-fiber diet
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Diabetes

Prevention

The exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known, but managing your diet and exercise can play a significant role in preventing these diseases. Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods, and avoiding high-fat, low-fiber foods, plus appropriate exercise – even small amounts on a regular basis – can be helpful.

Perhaps most important to the prevention of colorectal cancer is having screening tests at the appropriate ages. Because some colorectal cancers can’t be prevented, finding them early is the best way to improve the chances of successful treatment.

Screening

Screening methods for colorectal cancer, for people who do not have any symptoms or strong risk factors, include the following:

Digital rectal examination (DRE)
Fecal occult blood test
Sigmoidoscopy
Colonoscopy
Barium enema with air contrast (double contrast barium enema)

Symptoms

Symptoms of colorectal cancer may resemble other conditions, like infections, hemorrhoids and inflammatory bowel disease. It is also possible to have colorectal cancer and not have any symptoms, which makes screening important.

Each individual experiences symptoms differently, and should check with their physicians if they experience any of the following common symptoms of colorectal cancer:

  • Change in bowl habits such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days.
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool.
  • Cramping or gnawing stomach pain.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Vomiting.
  • Weakness and fatigue.
  • Jaundice – Yellowing of the skin and eyes.

Treatment

Specific treatment for colorectal cancer will be determined by your physician based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history.
  • Extent of the disease.
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies.
  • Expectations for the course of this disease.
  • Your opinion or preference.

After the colorectal cancer is diagnosed and staged, your physician will recommend a treatment plan. Treatment may include:

  • Colon surgery – Often the primary treatment for colorectal cancer is an operation called a colon resection, in which the cancer and a length of normal tissue on either side of the cancer are removed, as well as nearby lymph nodes.
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy