Colorectal cancer develops in your colon or rectum, two sections of your large intestine. Most colorectal cancers begin as polyps, or small lumps, that slowly turn into cancer over time.
If caught early, colorectal cancer is often curable. But in its early stages, colorectal cancer often does not have symptoms.
For that reason, most people older than 50 — and some younger people with a high risk of colon cancer — should have regular screening tests.
Should I be screened for colorectal cancer?
If you have any of the following risk factors, you should talk with your doctor about whether you need regular screening tests:
- You are older than 50
- You or a close relative have had colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer
- You have Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
Doctors at Rush offer several tests to look for colon or rectal cancers:
- Colonoscopy, during which your doctor uses a camera attached to a thin tube and passed through your anus to examine your large intestine
- Double contrast barium enema, a special X-ray of your large intestine
- CT colonography, a special computerized X-ray of your large intestine
- Fecal occult blood test, a method of looking for hidden blood in your stool
- Flexible sigmoidoscopy, during which your doctor uses a camera attached to a thin tube and passed through your anus to examine your rectum and the lower part of your large intestine
What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
Screening is important because colorectal cancer often does not have symptoms in its early stages. But the following symptoms might be signs of colorectal cancer:
- Abdominal pain
- Black or bloody stools
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Unexplained weight loss
- Stools that are narrower than usual
- Frequent gas, bloating or cramps
If you have any of these symptoms and it doesn’t go away, you should see your doctor. If you are diagnosed with colorectal cancer, your doctor will likely refer to you a specialist who can confirm the diagnosis and determine the stage and extent of the disease.