The large intestine (colon) forms the lower part of the digestive tract. Cancer in the last few inches of the colon is known as rectal cancer. Cancer in both regions of the lower level of the digestive tract is often referred to as colorectal cancer.
When diagnosed and treated in the early stages, colon cancer can be treated successfully. However many people do not experience symptoms in the early stages of the disease, and regular screenings are necessary to detect the presence of polyps, which are benign growths that can form inside the colon, and potentially become cancerous over time.
For people with no known family history or other risk factors for colorectal cancer, routine screenings are recommended after age 50. Patients with a family history of colon cancer or rectal cancer may be advised to begin regular screenings earlier.
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Signs and Symptoms of Colon Cancer
Many patients do not experience symptoms during the early stages of colon cancer. Once the disease has advanced, some of the most common symptoms can include:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unexplained weight loss
- Blood in stool
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Changes in bowel movements including: constipation, diarrhea, change in stool consistency
- Chronic abdominal pain, gas, cramps, and bloating
- Feeling like the bowel does not empty completely
It is very important to seek medical attention for symptoms like blood in stool or persistent changes in bowel habits and movements.
Causes of Colon Cancer and Rectal Cancer
As with many forms of cancer, the direct causes of colorectal cancer are not entirely understood. Certain people with a family history of the disease can be at a higher risk of developing colon or rectal cancer.
Certain hereditary genes can also increase the risk of developing the disease for some people, but hereditary genetics tend to account for a small percentage of cases of colorectal cancer. A few of the hereditary genetic conditions that can predispose a person to developing colon or rectal cancer include:
Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC)
HNPCC (also known as Lynch syndrome) can increase the risk of colon and other forms of cancer. HNPCC tends to lead to colon cancer before the age of 50.
Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
FAP is a rare disorder that leads to the growth of very large amounts of polyps in the lining of the colon and the rectum. Patients suffering from FAP that develops into cancer tend to develop the disease prior to the age of 40.
Genetic testing is available to determine a person’s risk factors and genetic predisposition to developing colorectal cancer.
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