Colorectal Cancer Cannot be Prevented but Regular Screening Can Lower Risks

Photo: Courtesy of Mayo Clinic

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, and Colorectal Cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. Colorectal cancer cannot be totally prevented, but there are ways to lower your risk and that’s with regular screening. Men are more likely than women to get colorectal cancer, and rates of colorectal cancer are higher in Black Americans, American Indians and Alaskan Native adults.

Many people with colon and rectal cancer experience no symptoms in the early stages of the disease. When symptoms appear, they’ll likely vary, depending on the cancer’s size and location in your large intestine.

Signs and symptoms of colon and rectal cancer include:

  • A persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool,
  • Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain,
  • A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely,
  • Weakness or fatigue and
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Cancer of the rectum and colon often are referred to together as colorectal cancer, but treatments can be different. Dr. David Etzioni, a Mayo Clinic Colorectal Surgeon, reminds people that early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to ensure better outcomes, and that it all begins with scheduling a screening. “Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that arises from the skin that lines the inner surface of the colon and rectum.” Dr. Etzioni says the colon and the rectum are in effect the same.

Dr. Etzioni also mentions that the colon and rectum are what we call the large intestine. It’s about 5 feet long and is the last part of the GI (gastrointestinal) tract, just before the GI stream exits the body. The rectum is the last 12 to 14 centimeters of the large intestine. And while they are somewhat geographically distinct, they are in effect one that runs into the other. Colon and rectal cancers are similar in many ways, but their treatment can be different, depending on stage and location.

Usually when we find a colon cancer or rectal cancer, the operation involves removing a portion of the colon or rectum. Dr. Etzioni says “it’s much more effective to treat an earlier-stage cancer than a later one, and that’s why screening is so important”. Colorectal cancer screening is one of the most effective types of screening for a cancer because not only can we detect an early-stage cancer, but we can actually prevent a cancer from developing. Colorectal cancer risk factors also include family history, inherited syndromes, diabetes, smoking, diet and age.

Learn more about colorectal cancer visiting or connect with others talking about Colorectal Cancers on, an online patient community moderated by Mayo Clinic

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