Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum. The colon and the rectum are parts of the large intestine, which is the lower part of the body’s digestive system. During digestion, food moves through the stomach and small intestine into the colon. The colon absorbs water and nutrients from the food and stores waste matter (stool). Stool moves from the colon into the rectum before it leaves the body.
Most colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make and release mucus and other fluids). Colorectal cancer often begins as a growth called a polyp, which may form on the inner wall of the colon or rectum. Some polyps become cancer over time. Finding and removing polyps can prevent colorectal cancer.
Colorectal cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States. Deaths from colorectal cancer have decreased with the use of colonoscopies and fecal blood tests, which check for blood in the stool.
Older age is a main risk factor for most cancers. The chance of getting cancer increases as you get older Other risk factors for colorectal cancer include:
Signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
Colorectal cancer treatment and chance of recovery depends on the size, location, and how far the cancer has spread. Common treatments include surgery to remove the cancer, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. However, researchers have been working for decades on finding new treatments to improve patient outcomes. These efforts include the development of more effective—and less toxic treatments—such as targeted therapies, immunotherapies, and cancer vaccines. Further development of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery are also being improved. Some studies are working to improve the patient’s ability to receive effective cancer treatment by managing the treatment’s toxic effects.
By having a better understanding about how specific types of tumors grow, researchers are able to develop targeted therapies and immunotherapies to expand treatment options available to patients with certain types of cancer.
An important part of the research process is patient participation in clinical trials. If joining a clinical trial is a treatment option you’d like to consider, the best place to start is to talk with your doctor or another member of your health care team. Often, your doctor may know about a clinical trial that could be a good option for you. He or she may also be able to search for a trial for you, provide information, and answer questions to help you decide about joining a clinical trial.
Some doctors may not be aware of or recommend clinical trials that could be appropriate for you. If so, you may want to get a second opinion about your treatment options, including taking part in a clinical trial.
If you decide to look for trials on your own, the following steps can guide you in your search. This information should not be used in place of advice from your doctor or other members of your health care team. This guide takes you through the following steps:
Source: National Cancer Institute