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Cancers of the colon and rectum - also known as colorectal cancers - are common, affecting both men and women and are most often found in people over age 50.

  • Risk factors
  • Hereditary collorectal cancer
  • Signs and symptoms

Risk factors 

According to the American Cancer Society it usually takes about 10 to 15 years for polyps to develop into colorectal cancer. So regular screening may prevent colorectal cancer altogether. This is because most polyps can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Screening can also result in finding colorectal cancer early, when it is highly curable.

The most common risk factors for colon cancer are:

  • Age - Although the disease can strike any age, most people who develop colorectal cancer are over age 50.
  • Polyps - These noncancerous growths are common in people over age 50. Experts believe that cancer can develop from polyps, so removal may be a way to prevent colorectal cancer.
  • Family history - Parents, siblings or children of a person who has had colorectal cancer are somewhat more likely to develop it, especially if the family member had the cancer before age 50.
  • Personal history - Individuals with a personal history of ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease have a higher risk for developing colon cancer.
  • Diet - Evidence suggests that high-fat, high-calorie, low-fiber diets play a part in development of the disease.

You may also be at risk if you:

  • Don't get enough exercise
  • Are overweight
  • Smoke or are a heavy alcohol use

Hereditary colorectal cancer

The two most common inherited causes of colon cancer are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC). Norton Cancer Institute's Genetic Counseling Services offers education, risk assessment, genetic counseling and genetic testing for people who are concerned about their risk for hereditary cancers. For more information, call (502) 629-GENE.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of colorectal cancer are not always obvious and often are attributed to other causes, such as stress, overeating or indigestion. Left untreated, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body. That's why routine screenings are crucial.

According to the National Cancer Institute, common signs of colorectal cancer include:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Persistent diarrhea
  • Constipation or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Blood in the stool
  • Stools that are more narrow than usual
  • General abdominal discomfort, such as bloating, cramps or gas pains
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant fatigue
  • Vomiting

For more information on colorectal cancer prevention, contact the Norton Cancer Institute Prevention & Early Detection Program at (502) 899-6842.

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