What is colorectal cancer?

Paul E. Savoca, MD
Colorectal Surgery
In this video, Paul Savoca, MD from Reston Hospital Center explains colorectal cancer and what parts of the body are affected.
In this video, Joseph Corallo, MD, Colorectal Surgeon at University Hospital & Medical Center, discusses the growth of colorectal cancer and importance of a colonoscopy.
Colorectal cancer is a disease in which cells in the colon or rectum become abnormal and divide without control, forming a mass called a tumor. Before a cancer develops, a growth of tissue usually begins as a noncancerous polyp on the inner lining of the colon or rectum, which can ultimately develop into cancer.

The wall of the colon and rectum is made up of several layers. If cancer forms in a polyp, it can eventually grow into the wall of the colon or rectum. When cancer cells are in the wall, they can grow into blood vessels or lymph vessels. Once cancer cells spread into blood or lymph vessels, they can travel to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body, such as the liver.

In its early stage, colorectal cancer usually produces no symptoms (polyps may be small and produce few, if any, symptoms). Some important warning signs include:
  • any notable change in bowel movement consistency or frequency
  • dark or light blood in the stool or rectal bleeding
  • abdominal discomfort or bloating
  • unexplained fatigue, loss of appetite and/or weight loss
 This content originally appeared on the HCA Virginia Physicians blog.
Cedrek McFadden, MD
Colorectal Surgery
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cancer killer in the Unites States. It is a cancer that begins as a precancerous polyp and primarily involves the large intestines (a.k.a the colon) and/or the rectum. In advanced cases, the disease may ultimately spread to involve other organs in the body.
Penn Medicine
While colon cancer is often combined with rectal cancer and referred to as “colorectal cancer,” it is important to know about the two different types, their location and their symptoms.
The colon is the largest part of the large intestine, also known as the large bowel. After food is chewed and swallowed, it travels through the stomach and small intestine where it is broken down and most of the nutrients absorbed. The colon's function is to change liquid waste into solid waste and prepare it to be expelled from the body.
Rectal cancer is cancerous tissue that grows along and invades the wall of the rectum. Rectal cancer and colon cancer are very similar and share many common features. The difference in location creates important differences in how each is treated. Rectal cancer, like colon cancer, may start as a polyp that becomes cancerous.
Aurora Health Care
Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon or rectum, both of which make up the large bowel. This is one cancer that can be prevented by doing screenings. It usually starts as small benign growths called polyps. Not all polyps turn into cancer. Those that do may take years to turn into cancer. So, removing small polyps early can help prevent this cancer.
Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. These cancers can also be referred to separately as colon cancer or rectal cancer, depending on where they start. The colon and rectum are both part of the gastrointestinal (GI) system, which is responsible for digesting food and passing waste from the body. The wall of the colon and rectum are made up of several layers, and colorectal cancer starts in the innermost layer. If left unchecked colorectal cancer can grow through some or all of the other layers, which is an important indicator of the extent the cancer has spread.

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer and the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States. In the United States there were 146,970 estimated cases and 49,920 reported deaths for both colon and rectal cancer in 2009. Screening is an important means of detecting the disease early, when the chances of cure are highest. Screening also allows for the detection and removal of potentially precancerous growths, called polyps, preventing the cancer from developing.

Continue Learning about Colon Cancer

Colon Cancer

Caused by growths that turn malignant, colon cancer develops slowly over several years.The cancer begins when precancerous growths called adenomatous polyps form in the tissues of the colon, which makes up the lower part of our di...

gestive system. Polyps can be detected through colon screenings. A colonoscopy uses a thin, lighted tube to search for polyps, cancer and abnormal areas in the colon and rectum. A colonoscopy is recommended at least every 10 years, starting at the age of 45 for African-Americans who are at greater risk for the cancer and at 50 for other races. Your risk for colon cancer increases if you have had previous cancers, a family history of colon or rectal cancers, or have ulcerative colitis. See your doctor if you have rectal bleeding, notice changes in your bowel movements or have unexplained weight loss. To prevent colon cancer, get screened as recommended by your doctor, maintain a healthy diet, exercise often and quit smoking if you currently do.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.