Surprising facts: colorectal cancer

By: Jane LangilleColon Cancer

Colorectal cancer, which is cancer of the colon or rectum, begins with non-cancerous growths called polyps in the lining of the colon. Polyps can multiply and grow bigger over time, and become cancerous, but if they are identified early and removed, colorectal cancer can be prevented.

Here are six surprising facts about colorectal cancer:

  1. More than half the people who have colorectal cancer have no symptoms.1 Colorectal cancer may be growing silently and not causing any warning symptoms at all until the disease is in more advanced stages. If there are symptoms, those can include: a change in stools; rectal bleeding; abdominal pain; unexplained weight loss; low iron levels; and constant fatigue.
  1. Blood in your stool doesn’t necessarily mean you have polyps or cancer.2 Blood in your stool can come from other areas of your digestive tract and could be caused by ulcers, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis (tiny pouches in the walls of the colon), or ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease (inflammatory bowel diseases). Talk to your doctor and discuss the right tests to investigate the cause if you notice blood in your stool.
  1. Colorectal cancer is 90 per cent curable when it’s caught early.1 People who are diagnosed early have an excellent chance for survival because the disease can likely be cured.
  1. You still need to get screened; even if you have no family history of the disease.1 Most people with colorectal cancer have no family member with the disease. In fact, only 10-20% of people who do have the disease have a family history.
  1. Colonoscopy is not the only way to screen for colorectal cancer.1 While colonoscopy is recommended for adults beginning at age 50, screening with an in-home stool test kit called the Fecal Occult Blood Test (FOBT) can also detect abnormal cells. The test is recommended for adults 50-74 years of age who have no symptoms and no family history of the disease. The Canadian Cancer Society recommends a stool test every two years for adults over the age of 50.2 Your medical history and results from the FOBT test can inform the decision to have a colonoscopy.
  1. A healthy diet can lower your risk of colorectal cancer.1 By eating a diet rich in fruit, vegetables and fibre, you can lower your risk. Some studies show a link between colorectal cancer and eating red meat, and there is also an increased risk with smoking and alcohol consumption. Assess your risk of developing colorectal cancer with this quick online questionnaire at Ontario’s ColonCancerCheck

Further reading


1    Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada: Myths & Facts

2   Canadian Cancer Society: Screening for colorectal cancer

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