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Colorectal and Colon Cancer

Colorectal and Colon Cancer Symptoms and Causes

Colorectal cancer is malignant cells found in the colon or rectum. The colon and the rectum are parts of the large intestine, which is part of the digestive system. Because colon cancer and rectal cancers have many features in common, they are sometimes referred to together as colorectal cancer. Cancerous tumors found in the colon or rectum also may spread to other parts of the body.

Types of cancer in the colon and rectum

  • Adenocarcinoma - the most common kind of tumor found in the colon and rectum, these are tumors that start in the lining of internal organs.
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) - these are tumors that start in the muscle tissue of the digestive tract, although they rarely appear in the colon.
  • Lymphoma - A cancer that typically starts in a lymph node, which is part of the immune system. However, it can also start in the colon or rectum.
  • Carcinoids - these are tumors that start in special hormone-producing cells in the intestine.

Colon and Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

People who have any of the following colorectal cancer symptoms should check with their physicians, especially if they are over 50 years old or have a personal or family history of the disease:

  • A change in bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation, or narrowing of the stool that lasts for more than a few days
  • Rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
  • Cramping or gnawing stomach pain
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes

Colorectal cancer symptoms may resemble other conditions, such as infections, hemorrhoids, and inflammatory bowel disease. It is also possible to have colon cancer and not have any symptoms. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Colon and Colorectal Cancer Causes

The exact cause of most colon cancer and colorectal cancer is unknown, but risk factors include:

  • Age - Most people who have colorectal cancer are over age 50, though it can occur at any age
  • Race - African-Americans have the highest risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Diet - Colorectal cancer is often associated with a diet high in red and processed meats
  • Polyps - Benign growths on the wall of the colon or rectum are common in people over age 50, and are believed to lead to colorectal cancer
  • Personal history - People who have had colorectal cancer or a history of adenomatous polyps have an increased risk for colorectal cancer
  • Family history - People with a strong family history of colorectal cancer or polyps in a first-degree relative (especially in a parent or sibling before the age of 60 or in two first-degree relatives of any age), have an increased risk for colorectal cancer
  • Ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease - People who have an inflamed lining of the colon have an increased risk for colorectal cancer.
  • Inherited syndromes, such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC)
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Smoking