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What is colorectal cancer?

There are two types of colorectal cancer:

  • Colon cancer (also known as bowel cancer) - cancer cells are present in the colon or bowel, the longest part of the large intestine.
  • Rectal cancer - cancer cells are present in the rectum, the last few inches of the large intestine before reaching the anus.

Consider the following statistics related to colorectal cancer:

  • Cancer of the colon or rectum (colorectal cancer) is the third most common form of cancer in the United States, not including skin cancers.
  • Though colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers, it is one of the more curable and preventable forms of the disease if detected early through colonoscopy screenings.
  • In fact, when colorectal cancer is found early and treated, the five-year survival rate is 78%, according to the National Cancer Data Base (NCDB). That's why medical experts and the American Cancer Society recommend you begin screening at age 50. Due to a higher rate of incidence at younger age, it is recommended African Americans begin screening at age 45.
  • Colonoscopies, screening tests for colorectal cancer, allow physicians to detect and remove polyps before they become cancer. The ability to detect and remove polyps early is one reason survival rates are high. And, finding colorectal cancer earlier may make it easier to treat.
  • The American Cancer Society estimates that about 140,000 colorectal cancer cases and about 50,000 deaths from colorectal cancer occur each year. The number of deaths due to colorectal cancer has decreased, which is attributed to increased screening and polyp removal and to improvements in cancer treatment.

What are the stages of colorectal cancer?

When colorectal cancer is diagnosed, tests will be performed to determine how much cancer is present, and if the cancer has spread from the colon or rectum to other parts of the body. This is called staging, and it is an important step toward planning a treatment program. The stages for colorectal cancer are as follows:

Stage 0 The cancer is found in the innermost lining of the colon or rectum.
Stage I The cancer has spread beyond the innermost lining of the colon or rectum to the second and third layers. The cancer has not spread to the outer wall or outside of the colon or rectum.
Stage II The cancer has spread through into the wall or outside the colon or rectum to nearby tissue. However, the lymph nodes are not involved.
Stage III The cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, but has not spread to other organs in the body.
Stage IV The cancer has spread to other parts of the body, such as the lungs.