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Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal Cancer: What You Need to Know

  • Colorectal cancer is one of the most curable types of gastrointestinal cancer, if found early.
  • Adults should begin regular screening at age 50. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer or those who are age 45 and older and of African-American or Eastern European Jewish descent should be screened even earlier.
  • Screenings should include a fecal occult test or fecal immunochemical testing (FIT) every year; or a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years with or without a stool based test at year 3; or a colonoscopy every 10 years.
  • If a polyp is found, your doctor will want to monitor you closely. Some polyps are benign growths that could become cancerous if left untreated.
  • Some forms of colorectal cancer are hereditary.

Colorectal cancer is also called colon cancer or rectal cancer. It refers to any cancer in the colon, from the start point, called the cecum, to the end, called the rectum.

Colorectal cancer occurs when the cells that line the colon or rectum become abnormal and grow out of control.

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Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S., excluding skin cancers. Early detection is vital, and a screening is recommended every 10 years, starting at age 50. Those with a family history of colorectal cancer should be screened starting at age 40, or 10 years before the youngest case in the family, whichever comes first.

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Colorectal Cancer Types

Sporadic (Nonhereditary) Colorectal Cancer

The most common form of colorectal cancer is sporadic (nonhereditary) colorectal cancer, which is when colorectal cancer occurs without a personal or family history.

Hereditary Colorectal Cancer

Hereditary colorectal cancer means the cancer gene is passed down in the family, though it is unclear which gene causes the disease. If more than one person in a family has colorectal cancer, it could mean that the potential for developing this form of cancer has been passed from one generation to the next.

Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer

Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC) syndrome was first described more than 100 years ago. It is the most common of the recognized inherited colorectal cancer syndromes. Also known as Lynch syndrome or cancer family syndrome, HNPCC is an inherited condition, meaning that the tendency to develop colorectal cancer is passed down in the family. Nonpolyposis means that the cancer can occur with only a small number of polyps present, or even with none at all.

Ask the Expert

Dr. Sandy Fang in the operating room

Does your diet put you at risk of colorectal cancer? Get answers to top questions about the disease and learn more about minimally invasive treatment options with colorectal surgeon Sandy Fang.

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Colorectal Cancer Research

Blood Test Accurately Predicts Disease’s Recurrence

A new test could help in early detection of recurrent colon cancer.

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Predicting Response to Immunotherapy Drug

Picking the right therapy for advanced colorectal cancer may one day be simpler. A small study has found a genetic biomarker that could be used to determine whether patients will benefit from certain immunotherapy drugs.

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Safer Colorectal Surgery

Bigger isn’t always better. Small steps — like urging patients to get up and move around sooner — can make a substantial difference in colorectal surgical outcomes, recovery time and cost of care.

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Genetic Roots of Drug Response

Scientists are now one step closer to creating tailored treatment for colorectal cancer. Mutations recently found in certain genes may explain why some patients respond differently to some of the most common targeted therapies used to treat the disease.

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Virtual Colonoscopy

CT machine

Not a candidate for traditional colonoscopies? Talk to your doctor about receiving a virtual colonoscopy, a quick scan that uses low dose computed tomography (CT) to look for polyps on the inside of the colon.

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Featured Health Webinar

While rates of colon cancer in adults over 50 have been declining, incidence rates in adults younger than 50 years have been increasing. Awareness of symptoms and risk factors is important in detecting the disease early.

Our colorectal cancer experts panel, featuring Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Francis Giardiello, M.D., and colorectal surgeon Susan Gearhart, M.D., discuss risk factors, symptoms, the importance of early screenings and current treatment options.

Watch now.

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