Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (called the colon). Rectal cancer is cancer of the rectum (which is the part of the large intestine closest to the anus). These forms of cancer have many common features. They are often referred to together as colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Many of these deaths happen when the cancers are found too late to be effectively treated. If colorectal cancer is found early enough, it is usually very treatable and not life threatening.

Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp. At first, a polyp is a small, harmless growth in the wall of the colon. However, as a polyp gets larger, it can develop into a cancer that grows and spreads. A colonoscopy can detect and remove these polyps before they become cancer.

See your doctor if you have any of the following warning signs:

  • Bleeding from your rectum
  • Blood in your stool or in the toilet after you have a bowel movement
  • A change in the shape or consistency of your stool (such as diarrhea or constipation lasting several weeks)
  • Cramping pain in your lower stomach
  • A feeling of discomfort or an urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need to have one
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Unintended weight loss
  • You have parents or siblings with polyps or colon cancer

Other conditions can cause these same symptoms. You should see your doctor to find what is causing your symptoms.

A Colonoscopy is a method to detect and remove polyps. Before you have this test, you are given a medicine to make you relaxed and sleepy. A thin, flexible tube connected to a video camera is put into your rectum, which allows your doctor to look at your entire colon. The tube can also be used to remove polyps and cancers during the exam. Colonoscopy may be uncomfortable, but it is usually not painful. Most patients are drowsy enough that they don’t remember anything from the procedure.

The optimal age to get tested is 50+.

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