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Colorectal Cancer and Disorders
of the Colon (Large Intestine)

What is colorectal cancer:

Colorectal cancer includes cancers of the large intestine (colon) and the rectum (the last few inches of the colon). Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States, only behind breast cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer. However, it is also one of the most preventable cancers. This is why early detection is so important.

The chances of developing colorectal cancer increase with age and can be impacted by dietary and smoking habits. People who are over 50 years of age are more likely to develop colorectal cancer. A diet with high amounts of red meat (like beef), low fiber, and only small amounts of fruits and vegetables may also be linked to colorectal cancer. Smoking greatly increases the risk. According to the American Cancer Society, compared to non-smokers, women who smoke are more than 40 percent more likely to die from colorectal cancer and men who smoke are at a increased risk of 30 percent. Drinking one or more alcoholic beverages a day can also increase the risk of colon cancer by approximately a 70 percent. Finally, people who exercise less and are obese are also at greater risk.

What are some signs of colorectal cancer?

Unfortunately, colon cancer is often painless so many people who have colorectal cancer  are not aware that they have it. Signs and symptoms depend on how advanced the cancer is and whether it has spread to other areas, such as the liver or lungs.

However, a change in your bowel habits (such asconstipation or diarrhea) or a change in the caliber of your bowel movements (more narrow or pencil shaped), indicates a need for testing.

Other signs include the following . . .
  • blood in stool
  • dark, tar-like stool
  • feeling of incomplete defecation
  • weight loss
  • night sweats
  • feeling very tired all the time, pale skin or palpitations (this could mean low levels of iron that you may be losing in your stool)
How is colorectal cancer detected?

Colon cancer can be detected by many different ways, such as by physical exam, blood work and lab tests, or a specialized procedure called a colonoscopy. The physician can perform a digital rectal exam to look for blood in the stool. However, this can only detect a small percentage of colon cancer.

Another way to detect the disease is with a fecal occult blood test, or FOBT. A small amount of stool is sent to the laboratory so that it can be tested to determine whether or not it contains blood. Though this test is more accurate than the rectal exam, it is not the most thorough way to test for colorectal cancer.

One of the best ways to detect colorectal cancer is with a colonoscopy, which is performed by a gastroenterologist or surgeon. In this procedure, a narrow scope with a camera is inserted into the rectum and colon to provide images that can depict signs of colorectal cancer, such as polyps. The advantage of this procedure is that not only can you detect the polyps, but you can also take a small piece of the colon (called a biopsy) and examine it under a microscope to look for signs of colorectal cancer. Not all polyps are cancerous. A biopsy can reveal whether cancer is present.

How is colorectal cancer treated?

Treatment for colorectal cancer depends on how advanced the cancer is and whether it has spread to other parts of the body. Treatment includes surgery to take out (or resect) the part of the colon or rectum in which the tumor is located. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy are also available as treatments.

At NYM, we offer a wide array of treatment options depending on the stage of cancer and the preferences of the patient. A dedicated team of physicians, surgeons, nurses, nutritionists and other support staff guide patients through the entire process. Our surgeons provide multiple surgical options, including minimally invasive surgery. Our team of oncologists and radiation oncologists offers a wide array of chemotherapy and radiation therapy treatments designed to minimize side effects and improve quality of life for patients and their family members.

For more information on colorectal cancer, click here.

Find a physician who specializes in treatment of digestive disorders here
or call 866-DIGEST-1.

To contact NYM's Division of Gastroenterology, call 718.780.3851.

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