Colorectal Cancer: Symptoms and Risk Factors

Colorectal Cancer: Symptoms and Risk Factors

Colorectal cancer is the term for cancers found in the colon or the rectum, which make up the large intestine. Colon cancer and rectal cancer are grouped together because they share numerous characteristics, symptoms, and treatments. The colon (the longest part of the large intestine), is a curving structure that continues the digestion of food, absorbs liquid out of the stool, and carries it down to the rectum for elimination. The rectum is the last few inches of the large intestine closest to the anus.

Most cases of colorectal cancer begin as small, noncancerous or benign tumors called adenomatous polyps that form on the inner walls of the large intestine. Over time some of these polyps can become cancers.

Causes and risk factors of colorectal cancer

Though no one knows the exact cause of colorectal cancer, we do know that certain factors can increase your risk of developing this cancer. These include:

  • Age: Your risk of colorectal cancer increases as you grow older. A majority of these cancers are diagnosed after age 50.
  • Family history: You are more likely to develop colorectal cancer if you have a first-degree relative (parent, sibling, or child) with the disease. Moreover, if more than one family member has colon or rectal cancer, your risk is even greater.
  • Inherited syndromes: These syndromes are caused by gene changes or mutations. They are passed through generations of your family and can increase your risk of colorectal cancer. The most common inherited syndromes include familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), also known as Lynch syndrome.
  • History of colorectal cancer or polyps: If you have already had colorectal cancer or adenomatous polyps before, you are at increased risk of developing this cancer in the future.
  • History of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, can also increase your risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Diet: A diet low in fiber and high in fat, red meat, and processed meats may increase your risk of colorectal cancer. Cooking meats at extremely high temperatures (frying, broiling, or grilling) produces chemicals that may also raise your cancer risk.
  • Obesity: People who are obese or overweight have an increased risk of colorectal cancer and an increased risk of dying of the cancer when compared with normal weight people.
  • Inactive lifestyle: People who have a sedentary lifestyle have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Diabetes: People suffering from type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance have an increased risk of colorectal cancer. They also tend to have a less favorable prognosis (outlook) after diagnosis.
  • Alcohol: Heavy alcohol use also increases your risk.
  • Smoking: People who have smoked for a long time are more likely than non-smokers to develop and die from colorectal cancer.

Symptoms of colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer often has no obvious signs or symptoms in the early stages, but symptoms may develop as the cancer advances. When symptoms appear, they may vary, depending on the cancer’s size and location in your large intestine. These symptoms may include:

  • A change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, that lasts for more than a few days
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
  • Stools that are narrower than normal
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool, which may make the stool look dark
  • Abdominal pain, cramps or bloating
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Nausea or vomiting

These symptoms can be caused by conditions other than colorectal cancer, but you should always have them checked by your doctor. Because symptoms may not be present or be minimal until the cancer has advanced to a later stage, cancer screening tests for colorectal cancer are very important, especially for individuals 50 years and older.

Disclaimer: All material on is provided for informational purposes only and should not be taken as a substitute for professional medical or health advice. Always seek the advice of your physician for any questions regarding your symptoms or medical condition and before taking any home remedies or supplements.

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