Health A to Z

Colorectal cancer

Odds of surviving colorectal cancer increase drastically when diagnosed early. Here, the signs to look for.

Colonrectal cancer causes symptoms treatments

Colorectal cancer is a disease in the cells that line the inside of the colon or rectum, which make up the large intestine. Colorectal cancer is the third most diagnosed cancer; there are more than 10,000 new cases of colorectal cancer in Canadian women each year. Colorectal cancer usually grows slowly and is curable when diagnosed early — the odds of survival after an early diagnosis increase by 90 percent.

Colorectal cancer causes Certain factors may increase the risk for developing the disease: being over 50 years old, having polyps — small growths on the wall of the colon and rectum — a family history of the disease, having an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease, and eating a diet high in processed meat and fat. However, some people develop colorectal cancer without any of these risk factors.

Colorectal cancer symptoms There may be no signs in the early stages of the disease. Symptoms often appear once the tumour causes bleeding and may include: a change in bowel habits, blood in the stools, diarrhea or constipation, gas pains, bloating or cramps, and weight loss for no apparent reason.

Colorectal cancer diagnosis/tests If you have symptoms of colorectal cancer, talk to your doctor who may suggest blood tests to see if other conditions are causing your symptoms. You may be referred for a colonoscopy, where a flexible tube attached to a video camera is inserted into your rectum and colon to check for signs of cancer and to take samples of tissue.

Colorectal cancer treatment Colorectal cancer can be treated through surgery, depending on the size of the tumour and where it is located in the intestine. All or part of the tumour, and some healthy tissue around the tumour, are removed. Radiation therapy and chemotheraphy may also prevent the growth and spread of the cancer cells.

Colorectal cancer prevention Some people with no risk factors develop colorectal cancer. However, it may be possible to reduce your risk by avoiding a diet that is low in red and processed meat and high in fibre, fruit and vegetables. Not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight and staying active may also guard against colorectal cancer. If you’re over age 50, talk to your doctor about screening for the disease.

Outside resources
Canadian Cancer Society
Colon Cancer Canada
Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada