What is colorectal cancer?

Colon cancer begins in the large intestine (called the colon). Rectal cancer begins in the rectum, the part of the large intestine closest to the anus (the outside opening to the intestine). These forms of cancer have many common features. Sometimes they are referred to together as colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Many of these deaths happened because the cancers were found too late to be cured. If colorectal cancer is found early enough, it can usually be cured by surgery.

What are the signs of colorectal cancer?

Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp (say "pahl-ip"). At first, a polyp is a small, harmless growth in the wall of the colon. However, as a polyp gets larger, it can develop into a cancer that grows and spreads.

See your doctor if you have any of the following warning signs:

  • Bleeding from your rectum
  • Blood in your stool or in the toilet after you have a bowel movement
  • A change in the shape of your stool
  • Cramping pain in your lower stomach
  • A feeling of discomfort or an urge to have a bowel movement when there is no need to have one
Other conditions can cause these same symptoms. You should be checked by your doctor to find the reason for your symptoms.