Colorectal Cancer

The Experts at OU Medicine Remind You That March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer for men and women, but early detection makes a huge difference.  Since March is National Colorectal Cancer Wareness Month, play it smarth and talk to your doctor about getting screened.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in either the colon or the rectum. Colon cancer and rectal cancer have many features in common. Cancer that starts in these different areas may cause different symptoms. But colon cancer and rectal cancer have many things in common. In most cases, colorectal cancers develop slowly over many years. We now know that most of these cancers start as a polyp -- a growth of tissue that starts in the lining and grows into the center of the colon or rectum. This tissue may or may not be cancer. A type of polyp known as an adenoma can become cancer. Removing a polyp early may keep it from becoming cancer.

 What are the risk factors (from the American Cancer Society)?

  • Age: The chances of having colorectal cancer go up after age 50. More than 9 out of 10 people with colorectal cancer are older than 50.
  • Having had polyps or colorectal cancer before: Some types of polyps increase the risk of colorectal cancer, especially if they are large or if there are many of them. If you have had colorectal cancer (even if it has been completely removed), you are more likely to have new cancers start in other areas of your colon and rectum. The chances of this happening are greater if you had your first colorectal cancer when you were younger.
  • Having a history of bowel disease: Inflamatory bowel diseases, like ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, increase the risk of colon cancer. In these diseases, the colon is inflamed over a long period of time. If you have one of these diseases your doctor may want you to have colon screening testing more often. (These diseases are different than irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which does not increase for colorectal cancer risk.)
  • Family history of colorectal cancer: If you have close relatives (parents, brothers/sisters, or children) who have had this cancer, your risk might be increased. This is especially true if the family member got the cancer at a younger age. People with a family history of colorectal cancer should talk to their doctors about when and how often to have screening tests.
  • Certain family syndromes: A syndrome is a group of symptoms. The 2 most common inherited syndromes linked with colorectal cancers are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).


Screening tests: Regular colorectal cancer screening or testing is one of the best ways to help prevent colorectal cancer. Screening is the process of looking for cancer in people who don't have any symptoms of the disease. Some polyps, or growths, can be found and removed before they have the chance to turn into cancer. Screening can also help find colorectal cancer early, when it is small and more likely to be cured.

If you have a history of colorectal cancer in your family, you should talk with your doctor about when and how often to have screening tests.

Additional Resources

Stephenson Cancer Center