Colorectal Cancer Facts
On this page:
- What is colorectal cancer?
- How does it develop?
- What is screening?
- Who can get colorectal cancer?
- What are the symptoms?
- What if I don't have symptoms?
- Colorectal cancer in the United States
- Learn more about colorectal cancer
- Learn more about colorectal cancer screening guidelines
What is colorectal cancer?
Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. The colon is the large intestine (the bowel). The rectum connects the colon to the anus.
How does it develop?
Colorectal cancer usually starts with polyps. A polyp is a growth that should not be there. Polyps take years to grow. They are common in people over age 50.
Most polyps are benign (not cancer). But some polyps, known as adenomas or adenomatous polyps, can become cancer. When an adenomatous polyp becomes cancer, it is called an adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinomas account for most colon and rectal cancers. There are other types of colorectal cancers, and they are less common.
What is screening?
Your healthcare provider can give you a test to detect polyps, adenomatous polyps, adenocarcinomas, or other cancers. There are several recommended screening tests. Talk to your healthcare provider to choose one that is best for you.
If the test finds any polyps or adenomatous polyps, a doctor can remove them. Early removal may keep polyps and adenomas from becoming cancer.
If the test reveals any adenocarcinomas or other colorectal cancers, a doctor can remove them also, as part of cancer treatment.
Who can get colorectal cancer?
Men and women, regardless of race or ethnicity, can develop colorectal cancer. Mostly it occurs in people aged 50 years or older. Colorectal cancer can lead to death if not detected and treated.
What are the symptoms?
Some people with colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer do have symptoms. The symptoms may include:
- Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement)
- Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that don't go away
- Losing weight and you don't know why
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. However, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your healthcare provider.
What if I don't have symptoms?
Someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. If you are 50 years or older you should get screened regularly. There are several recommended screening tests. You should talk to your healthcare provider about the one that is right for you. To learn more about screening and guidelines, go to Take Action: Get Screened.
Colorectal cancer in the United States
Colorectal cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States. About 140,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year (about half men and half women).
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. About 50,000 people in the United States die of colorectal cancer each year (again, about half men and half women).
60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone over 50 got screened regularly.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in men.
Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer among Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic women.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer among white, black, and American Indian/Alaska Native women.