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.
Care for colorectal cancer at Rush
If you have colorectal cancer, your treatment will depend on many factors, including its location, its size and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Doctors at Rush work with patients — and with each other — to determine the best course of treatment, and they welcome patients seeking second opinions.
Your care at Rush may involve one or more of the following:
- Surgery to remove the cancer or the part of the intestine affected by the cancer. If colorectal cancer is caught before it has spread, surgery can often remove it completely. Whenever possible, doctors at Rush use minimally invasive or endoscopic techniques that involve only a small incision or no incision at all. These techniques can lead to faster recovery and less pain.
- Chemotherapy, or cancer-fighting drugs.
- Radiation therapy for rectal cancers, which at Rush usually involves advanced technology that targets the cancer with high doses of radiation while protecting surrounding tissue.
- Complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, massage and other options to help you cope with pain, loss of energy and other challenges related to your condition.
Why choose Rush for colorectal cancer care
- U.S. News & World Report ranks Rush among the best hospitals in the country for cancer care.
- Colorectal surgeons at Rush have helped pioneer minimally invasive techniques for removing colorectal cancers. They are among only a handful of surgeons across the country who offer transanal endoscopic microsurgery (TEM), which allows them to remove small tumors in the rectum through the anus. Because it does not require an incision, it can lead to quick recovery. Many patients do not even need to stay in the hospital overnight.
- Rush is home to the Sandra Rosenberg Registry for Hereditary and Familial Colon Cancer, one of a small group of such registries in the U.S. The registry conducts research and educates patients and families with a history of colorectal cancer, including familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC).
- Many patients at Rush receive care at the Rush University Cancer Center’s Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Clinic for Gastrointestinal Cancers. At the clinic, specialists combine their expertise to consider all the options and create a treatment plan tailored to the patient’s needs.