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What Is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer develops in the colon or rectum. The colon and rectum make up your large intestine, which is part of your lower digestive system. These two cancers are grouped together because they have many common features.

Each year in the United States, about 135,430 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Women and men are both at risk for colorectal cancer, but women are slightly less affected. Colorectal cancer occurs in 1 of every 23 women and 1 of every 20 men.

Colorectal cancer is expected to cause about 50,040 deaths in the United States in 2017. However, there are more than 100 million colorectal cancer survivors living in the US.

Learn more about colon cancer

Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer

There are many risk factors for colorectal cancer. The most common risk factors include

  • Age
  • Family history and personal history of cancer
  • History of polyps in the colon
  • Diet
  • Alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle

You are at a higher risk for colorectal cancer if you have Crohn’s Disease or have a history of ulcerative colitis (ulcers in the large intestine). Certain hereditary conditions such as familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer, also known as HNPCC or Lynch Syndrome, have a higher risk of developing colorectal cancer.

Screenings for Colorectal Cancer

Screening is crucial to early detection of colorectal cancer. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the treatment outcome.

More than 90 percent of colorectal cancers can be treated when diagnosed in early stages. Average-risk individuals with no family or personal history of cancer should begin screenings at the age of 50. Black Americans should begin screenings at age 45, as colorectal cancer has been shown to develop earlier and become more aggressive.

Available screening tests include:

  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy. This is the only procedure that can detect and remove polyps before they develop into cancer
  • CT Colonography (virtual colonoscopy)


About UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

UPMC Hillman Cancer Center provides world-class cancer care, from diagnosis to treatment, to help you in your cancer battle. We are the only comprehensive cancer center in our region, as designated by the National Cancer Institute. We have more than 70 locations throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Maryland, with more than 200 oncologists. Our internationally renowned research team is striving to find new advances in prevention, detection, and treatment.