Department of Surgery
It's estimated that cancers of the colon and rectum (referred to as colorectal cancer) affect about 130,000 to 140,000 people each year, making it the second most common cancer in the United States.
You may not be affected if you receive annual physicals that include testing for colorectal cancer. If properly diagnosed in its early stages, this form of cancer may be cured.
Who's At Risk for Colorectal Cancer
While colorectal cancer can strike anyone of any age, at least 9 of every 10 colorectal cancer patients are older than 40, and their risk doubles every 10 years. That's why it is important to have physicals every year and to know your risk factors for colorectal cancer. If colorectal cancer runs in the family or if you have ulcerative colitis, colon polyps, or cancer of other organs, you may be at increased risk.
Identifying Colorectal Cancer
Most colorectal cancers appear first as benign polyps. These are small tumors that form on the inner lining of your large intestine (colon). The older you get, the likelier you are to have such polyps. It is estimated that around 25 percent of all U.S. adults who are older than 50 probably have at least one colorectal polyp. These polyps can usually be found and removed with a colonoscopy preventing them from growing into a cancer.
As there are often no symptoms of many polyps and early cancers, it is important that your doctor perform detection procedures during your routine physicals, especially when you turn 50. If polyps are detected and removed when they are benign, then colorectal cancer may be prevented. If not detected, the polyps may increase in size, spread within and beyond the colon, and become malignant.
You should consult your doctor if you experience rectal bleeding, prolonged constipation, or ongoing diarrhea. Because these symptoms are also common in other colorectal diseases, you must have a thorough colorectal examination.
Surgery is required to treat colorectal cancer successfully. In some cases, radiation and chemotherapy are also performed. It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of colorectal cancer patients are cured when the cancer is detected and treated in the earliest stages; the cure rate drops significantly when it is found later.
Surgery for colorectal cancer can often be performed laparoscopically or sometimes through a single small incision.