Not counting skin cancers, colorectal cancers are the third most common type of cancer in the United States. More than 145,000 people in this country are diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Slightly more than 4% of the population will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer sometime in their lifetimes. When colorectal cancer is diagnosed and treated early, it has greater than a 90% chance for cure at MD Anderson.
The outlook for patients diagnosed with colorectal cancer is based on how far the disease has progressed at diagnosis.
The five-year survival rates for colorectal cancers are:
- Localized (Confined to primary location) – 89.9%
- Regional (Spread to lymph nodes) – 71.3%
- Distant (Cancer has metastasized) – 14.2%
- Unknown (Cancer was not staged) – 35.4%
Colorectal cancers grow slowly. The majority start as polyps, which are overgrowths of tissue in the lining of the colon. Colon cancer may start within a polyp, but not all polyps are malignant.
Colorectal cancer survival rates have improved over the past 15 years. Screening for colorectal cancer can identify polyps and remove them before they become cancer.
There have also been a number of advances in colorectal cancer treatment. In addition, treatments have become less invasive.
Types of colorectal cancer
The majority of colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas that began as adenomas, which are a type of polyp that may become cancer.
Colorectal cancer often does not have symptoms in the early stages. Most colorectal cancers begin as polyps, small non-cancerous growths on the colon wall that can grow larger and become cancerous. As polyps or cancers grow, they can bleed or block the intestines.
Symptoms of colorectal cancer may include:
- Rectal bleeding
- Blood in the stool or toilet after a bowel movement
- Diarrhea or constipation that does not go away
- Change in normal bowel habits, such as size, shape and frequency
- Discomfort or urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need
- Abdominal pain or a cramping pain in your lower stomach
- Bloating or full feeling
- Change in appetite
- Weight loss without dieting
These symptoms usually do not mean you have colorectal cancer. But, any time you notice unexplained changes and they persist for more than two weeks, don’t assume they will just go away. See your doctor.
Anything that increases your chance of getting colorectal cancer is a risk factor. Colorectal cancer risk factors include:
- Age: Colorectal cancer is most frequently diagnosed in people aged 65-74.
- The median age at diagnosis is 67 years old
- Race: African Americans have the highest rate of colon cancer among all racial groups in the United States.
- Family history of colon cancer, rectal cancer or polyps
- Hereditary cancer syndromes such as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC or Lynch) syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or chronic ulcerative colitis)
- Prior history of colorectal cancer or polyps
Lifestyle factors that increase your colorectal cancer risk include:
- Lack of exercise
- Diet: If you eat a lot of red meat, processed meats or meats cooked at very high heat, you may be at higher risk for colon cancer
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Cigarette smoking
- Drinking too much alcohol
For patients concerned about inherited family syndromes that cause colorectal cancer, we offer advanced genetic testing and counseling to let you know your risk and to help you understand your options for reducing cancer risk.
Lifestyle choices that may decrease your risk of getting colon cancer include:
- Regular screening tests
- Staying at a healthy weight
- Regular exercise
- Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
- Avoiding cigarette smoking
- Drinking alcohol only in moderation
Related: Colorectal cancer prevention: What you need to know
Visit our prevention and screening section to learn how to manage your colorectal cancer risk.
Learn more about colorectal cancer:
Why choose MD Anderson for your colorectal cancer treatment?
At MD Anderson's Colorectal Center, your colorectal cancer treatment is personalized to provide the best outcomes, while focusing on your quality of life. We offer leading-edge treatments for colorectal cancer, including advanced minimally invasive surgeries that provide successful treatment with less impact on you.
MD Anderson is also uniquely experienced in sphincter-preserving surgeries, eliminating the need for a colostomy.
Multidisciplinary Team Approach
Colorectal cancer treatment at MD Anderson is provided by a team of experts, including medical oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, gastroenterologists, radiologists, clinical nurses, and mid-level providers, working in concert, to optimize your care. They discuss your case and develop a treatment designed to attack your cancer while minimizing side effects.
Supplementing your clinical care, MD Anderson teams also provide assistance with nutrition, pain management, psychological support, wound management and other ancillary needs, in a holistic approach that treats not only your cancer, but you as an individual.
In addition, our advanced knowledge in cancer genetics can help diagnose and treat inherited family syndromes that may increase your risk of colorectal cancer. This expertise also helps us work with you to plan the most effective treatment for your specific condition.
As one of the world’s largest cancer research centers, MD Anderson is a leading center for the investigation into new methods of colorectal cancer treatment and diagnosis. Through our clinical trials, this research can give patients access to treatments and procedures not found anywhere else.
Be in touch with your body. If something feels new or weird, please don’t wait to see the doctor.
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Colorectal Cancer Moon Shot
MD Anderson’s Colorectal Cancer Moon Shot® aims to rapidly and dramatically improve the disease’s survival rates and reduce suffering through prevention, early detection, research and new treatments.Learn more about the Colorectal Cancer Moon Shot
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
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Prevention & Screening
Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular
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