Jefferson University Hospitals

What Is Colorectal Cancer?

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The colon – often referred to as the large intestine – stretches from your small intestine to your anus. It measures approximately 5 feet long and 2 to 3 inches in diameter with a main purpose of absorbing fluids and salts and storing waste products until they are ready to pass from the body.

The rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus.

Colon cancer is a cancer that starts in the colon. Colorectal cancer is another commonly used term that refers to not only cancers of the colon but also cancers found in the rectum. Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death, after lung cancer.

An estimated 1 in 20 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

Many cases of colorectal cancer typically don't have symptoms, which is why screening is necessary to detect this cancer early. If you do experience symptoms, recognize the following signs:

  • Abdominal pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or other changes in bowel movements
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool
  • Change in stool shape
  • Change in appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

There's no single cause of colon cancer. Nearly all begin as noncancerous (benign) polyps, which slowly develop into cancer.

Colorectal Cancer Prevention

The most effective way to prevent colorectal cancer is to get screened. Lifestyle changes can also help reduce your risk, such as:

  1. Giving up smoking
  2. Getting to and maintaining a healthy weight
  3. Eating less red meat
  4. Eating more fruits and vegetables
  5. Exercising regularly