What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or the rectum, also known as the large bowel or large intestine. Because cancers of the colon and rectum are alike they’re called colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer can develop from abnormal tissue, called polyps that grow on the inner wall of the colon and rectum. Not all polyps are cancerous, but some polyps can turn into cancer. Pre-cancerous polyps can be removed if caught early. This is why it is important to get screened early so that the polyps are found and removed and do not turn into cancer.
Colorectal cancer often has no warning signs or symptoms until it is advanced.
Common signs of colorectal cancer are: Rectal bleeding, or any sign of blood after bowel movements, lasting change in bowel habits such as: diarrhea or constipation for more than a few weeks, stools (poops) that are consistently more narrow than usual, feeling that you cannot completely empty your bowel, or unexplained weight loss, tiredness, or exhaustion
Who should be screened for colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer screening is recommended every 1 to 2 years for average risk people aged 50-74 years. If you’re under 50 or over 74 years talk to your health care provider about the benefits and risks of screening. Those who are screened with the stool test should have:
- No signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer
- No personal history of colorectal cancer
- No immediate family with colorectal cancer
- No genetic syndromes
- No inflammatory bowel disease: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
If colorectal cancer is part of your immediate family history, you are considered high risk of developing it. You should begin screening at age 40, or ten years earlier than the youngest age that colorectal cancer was diagnosed in your family, whichever comes first. When you have a family history of colorectal cancer the screening tool is a colonoscopy instead of FIT. Colonoscopy lets the physician check for abnormal tissue growths (polyps) in your colon using a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end. Those with genetic syndromes or inflammatory bowel disease would be considered at special risk and will need to be referred to a specialist for screening.