What is Colorectal Cancer?

Colorectal cancer refers to both colon cancer and rectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States in men and women combined.

hero symbol

The colon, or large intestine, is about five to six feet long, beginning at the cecum and ending with the anus. The last five to ten inches of the colon is called the rectum.

Cancer located in the rectum is called rectal cancer, and cancer located in the rest of the colon is colon cancer. Some people, usually outside of the U.S., also refer to colon and rectal cancers as bowel cancer.

What causes colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer occurs when abnormal cells form tumors in normal tissues of the intestines and digestive system. The exact type of colon or rectal cancer depends on where the abnormal cells first began, how fast they grew and if they spread. This is where colon cancer stage comes in.

The main differentiator between these two cancers is where the tumor first forms — in the rectum or in the rest of the colon. Learn more about colon cancer vs rectal cancer.

A variety of factors go into the causes of colorectal cancer: age, diet, exercise, smoking, a history of IBD, and genetics. Learn more about risk factors for colon cancer you can and cannot control.

It's important to know that you may not see any symptoms of colon cancer at first. Sometimes people experience symptoms, like blood in the stool, abdominal pain, anemia, etc., but sometimes patients get screened and are shocked to hear they have colon cancer because they didn't experience any symptoms. This is why screening for colorectal cancer is so critical.

Most colon tumors start small and do not have any side effects or give off signs of colon cancer. But, a colorectal tumor grows, that changes. A colon tumor and/or rectal tumor can disrupt your body’s ability to digest food and remove waste. This causes potentially severe bowel and abdominal problems.

Colorectal cancer is preventable and treatable through screening. When it comes to getting screened, you may have options depending on your symptoms and your age.

Colorectal Cancer Facts and Stats

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in men and women combined and 1 in 20 people will be diagnosed in their lifetime.

Survival Rates

It's one of the first questions you ask when you're diagnosed with colorectal cancer: What are the odds of beating it? What are my chances? Here's what you need to know about colorectal cancer survival rates.

Young Adults (Early-Age Onset)

Research tells us colorectal cancer is no longer a disease that only affects older people; colon cancer is affecting young people, and the rates are rising. While approximately 90% of colorectal cancer cases occur in people over the age of 50, since the mid-1990s, the number of new cases of colorectal cancer has been increasing among adults under 50 years old.

Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

Do I have colon cancer? What are rectal cancer symptoms? Is blood in my poop normal? Learn about all of the common and not-so-common colon cancer symptoms.

Risk Factors

Are you at risk for colorectal cancer? Learn the risk factors, which range from lifestyle (diet, smoking, exercise) to age, genetics, and the link between family history.

Access to Care

Fight CRC is committed to ensuring all Americans have access to quality health care and can live a healthy life, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, religion, and socioeconomic status.