Basic information about colon cancer

Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. Sometimes it is called colon cancer, for short. As the drawing shows, the colon is the large intestine or large bowel. The rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus.

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Click for more information on colon cancer screening.

Sometimes abnormal growths, called polyps, form in the colon or rectum. Over time, some polyps may turn into cancer.Screening tests can find polyps so they can be removed before turning into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment often leads to a cure.

Colorectal cancer affects men and women of all racial and ethnic groups, and is most often found in people aged 50 years or older. In the United States, it is the third most common cancer for men and women.

Of cancers that affect both men and women, colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the United States, but it doesn’t have to be. Colorectal cancer screening saves lives. Screening can find precancerous polyps—abnormal growths in the colon or rectum—so that they can be removed before turning into cancer. Screening also helps find colorectal cancer at an early stage, when treatment often leads to a cure. About nine out of every 10 people whose colorectal cancers are found early and treated appropriately are still alive five years later.

If you are aged 50 or older, get screened now. If you think you may be at higher than average risk for colorectal cancer, speak with your doctor about getting screened early.

While screening rates have increased in the U.S., not enough people are getting screened for colorectal cancer—

  • As of 2008, 62.9% of adults aged 50–75 years were screened as recommended. In 2002, only 51.9% of Americans were screened as recommended.
  • While screening rates continue to rise in the U.S., 22 million people are still not up-to-date with colorectal cancer screening.

Data source: Richardson LC, Rim SH, Plescia M. Vital Signs: Colorectal cancer screening among adults aged 50–75 years—United States, 2008. MMWR 2010;59(26):808–812.

Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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