Not counting skin cancer, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. for both men and women.
But as common as it is, how much do you know about it?
Here are answers to four frequent questions about colorectal cancer. What you learn might save your life:
Q: How does colorectal cancer develop?
A: Colorectal cancers usually begin as noncancerous growths called polyps. It can take years before polyps turn into cancer.
Q: Who's most at risk?
A: About 90% of all cases of the disease occur in people 50 and older. Risk rises with age. Your chance of developing colorectal cancer also increases if you have:
• An inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis.
• A personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer.
• A rare inherited condition, such as Lynch syndrome.
Being overweight, not getting enough exercise and eating a diet that's high in red meat may also raise your risk.
Q: What symptoms should I look for?
A: Warning signs of colorectal cancer include:
• A change in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation.
• Bright red or very dark blood in your stool.
• Stools that look narrower or thinner than normal.
• Stomach discomfort, such as frequent gas pain, bloating and cramps.
• Unexplained weight loss.
Symptoms often appear only after colorectal cancer has spread and is more difficult to treat. That's why getting screened for the disease is so important.
Q: What should I know about screening?
A: Screening can find colorectal cancer early, when treatment often works best. Regular screening can also often prevent colorectal cancer by finding and removing polyps before they become cancerous.
There are several different screening tests. But no matter which you choose, the most important thing is to get tested. The American Cancer Society advises starting screening at age 45 for most people.
Talk with your doctor about which test is right for you and when—and how often—to get screened.
Sources: American Cancer Society; American Society of Clinical Oncologists; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention