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About Colorectal Cancer

Contact the Florida Cancer Program

What is colorectal cancer?

Image of intestinal system

Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. The colon is the large intestine (the bowel). The rectum connects the colon to the anus.

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How does it develop?

Colorectal cancer usually starts with polyps. A polyp is a growth that should not be there. Polyps take years to grow. They are common in people over age 50.

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Who can get colorectal cancer?

Men and women, regardless of race or ethnicity, can develop colorectal cancer. Mostly it occurs in people aged 50 years or older. Colorectal cancer can lead to death if not detected and treated.  However, African-Americans are encouraged to get screened beginning at age 45.

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What are the symptoms?

Some people with colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer do have symptoms. The symptoms may include:

  • Blood in or on your stool (bowel movement)
  • Stomach pain, aches, or cramps that don't go away
  • Losing weight and you don't know why

If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer. However, the only way to know what is causing them is to see your healthcare provider.

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What if I don't have symptoms?

Someone could have polyps or colorectal cancer and not know it. Colorectal cancer almost always develops from precancerous polyps in the colon or rectum. Screening tests can find polyps so that they can be removed before they turn into cancer. Screening tests can also find cancer early, when treatment works best. There are several recommended screening tests. You should talk to your healthcare provider about the one that is right for you.

60% of deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if everyone over 50 got screened regularly.

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When should I get screened?

Everybody who is 50 years or older should get screened regularly. Once you're 75, talk to your healthcare provider to decide whether or not to get screened.

Some people should get screened earlier than age 50 if they have a higher risk of getting colorectal cancer. You might be at higher risk if you have had colorectal cancer before, if an immediate family member had it, or if you have inflammatory bowel disease. Although it is rare, some people have genetic markers for the inherited forms of colorectal cancer.

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What are the screening tests?

There are several approaches to screening. You should talk to your healthcare provider about which test(s) to choose and how often to use them.

Here are some of the more common tests used for colorectal cancer screening:

FOBT (Fecal Occult Blood Test)

Blood in your bowel movement can be detected by an FOBT. There are two types.

One type, iFOBT uses antibodies to detect blood. If you choose this method, ask your healthcare provider for an iFOBT or FIT (Fecal Immunochemical Test).

The other type, gFOBT uses a chemical called guaiac to detect blood. This method is also called gFOBT. If you choose this method, ask your doctor for a high sensitivity gFOBT.


The doctor inserts a short, thin, flexible tube to look for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and lower third of the colon.


The doctor inserts a long, thin, flexible tube to look for polyps or cancer inside the rectum and the entire colon. During the test, the doctor can find and remove most polyps and some cancers.

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What happens if a screening test result is abnormal?

An FOBT test result may be abnormal (positive). Not all positives mean that you have cancer. A follow-up test is required. The follow-up to a positive FOBT test would be colonoscopy. During the colonoscopy, if the doctor finds something abnormal, he or she may remove polyps or cancer, and decide whether to do further diagnostic tests or treatments.

If a sigmoidoscopy result is abnormal, your doctor will discuss the follow-up procedure options with you.

During a screening colonoscopy, if your doctor finds something abnormal, he or she may remove polyps or cancer during the procedure. Afterwards, your doctor will discuss with you whether further diagnostic tests or treatments may be necessary.

Learn about colorectal cancer screening guidelines

United States Preventive Services Task Force
United States Multi-Society Task Force

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