NEA Baptist Clinic

Colorectal Cancer Fact Sheet

What is colorectal cancer? The colon and the rectum are two parts of the digestive system that, taken together, form the large intestine. The colon comprises the first six feet of the large intestine, and the rectum is the last eight to 10 inches. Colorectal cancer is a disease in which cells in the colon or rectum become abnormal and divide without control or order, forming a mass called a tumor. When cancer starts in the colon it is called colon cancer, and when it starts in the rectum it is called rectal cancer. Either type can also be called colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in men and women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that 105,500 new cases of colon cancer and 42,000 new cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2003. In addition, colon cancer will be responsible for 57,100 deaths during 2003, accounting for about 10% of all cancer-related deaths. Worldwide, more than 940,000 cases occur annually and nearly 500,000 people die from the disease. When colorectal cancer is treated at an early stage and has not spread, the 5-year relative survival rate is 90%. However, only 37% of colorectal cancers are found in the early stage.

Who is at risk for colorectal cancer?
  • Colorectal cancer is increasingly common as people age, with most cases occurring after age 50.
  • Women with a history of cancer of the ovary, uterus, or breast have an increased chance of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Colorectal cancer appears to be associated with a diet high in fat and calories and low in fiber.
  • Polyps are benign growths that can become malignant over time and are fairly common in people over age 50.
  • People who have inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease) have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer.
  • Family history is also a risk factor. The close relatives (parents, siblings, children) of a person who has had colorectal cancer are more likely to develop this type of cancer themselves, especially if the relative developed the cancer at a young age.
  • Those with hereditary conditions such as familial polyposis, hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer, Lynch I syndrome, Lynch II syndrome, and ulcerative colitis have a high incidence of colorectal cancer. Ten percent to 15% of people with colorectal cancer and/or colorectal adenomas have other affected family members.

What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
The symptoms of colorectal cancer include a change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea, constipation or the feeling that the bowel doesn't empty completely; blood in the stool; abdominal pain or discomfort; vomiting; unexplained weight loss; and constant fatigue.

How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?
There are several tests that can diagnose colorectal cancer. They include:
  • Digital rectal exam (DRE). An examination in which the doctor inserts a lubricated, gloved finger into the rectum to feel for abnormalities.
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT). Test for blood in the stool.
  • Sigmoidoscopy. Use of a special light to see inside the rectum and lower colon, allowing the doctor to remove polyps or tissue samples for closer examination.
  • Colonoscopy. Examination of the rectum and entire colon using a lighted scope. Allows physician to remove tissue samples for closer examination.
  • Double-contrast barium enema (DCBE). A series of x-rays of the colon and rectum taken after the patient is given an enema with barium solution.
  • Biopsy. Removal of a tissue sample for examination under a microscope for cancerous cells.

What treatment options are available for colorectal cancer?
The most common treatment for colorectal cancer is surgery to remove the cancerous tissue. It results in cure in approximately 50% of cases. In addition, physicians generally recommend a multidisciplinary approach that combines:
  • Chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells remaining after surgery, to control tumor growth, or to relieve symptoms;
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells in a targeted area; and
  • Biologic therapy uses or mimics the body's defenses to fight cancer5. New treatments are under investigation and are showing great potential in the treatment of colorectal cancer.

To find out more, call Dawn or Mary at NEA Baptist Clinic at 1-870-934-5343 or 1-870-934-5342 or visit or call the Novartis Clinical Trials Hotline AT 1-800-340-6843 or visit

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