Fast Facts on Colorectal Cancer (CRC)

The National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC) acknowledges CRC as the third most common cancer and the second most common cause of death from cancer for both Canadian men and women.

Yet CRC is a highly treatable cancer if it is detected early and it is up to 90 per cent preventable with timely and thorough testing or “CRC screening”. Unfortunately as it stands today, nearly half of those diagnosed find out too late.

The majority of CRCs begin as benign growths in the lining of the colon called adenomatous polyps. Over the years, these polyps grow in size and number, thereby increasing the risk that the cells in the polyps will become cancerous. Timely removal of these growths – easily done during a colonoscopy – will prevent CRC from developing. It is important to identify and remove these polyps as soon as possible.

Polyp removal is usually done during a colonoscopy and the patient is sedated during the procedure. Recovery is very quick and usually pain-free. Polyps are sent for a biopsy and tested for any malignancies.

Colorectal Cancer by the Numbers:

  • 423 Canadians, on average, are diagnosed with CRC every week.
  • 175 Canadians, on average, die of this disease every week.
  • One in 14 men is expected to develop CRC during his lifetime and one in 27 will die of it.
  • One in 15 women is expected to develop CRC during her lifetime and one in 31 will die of it.
  • Anyone 50 and up should be screened regardless of family history.

Signs and Symptoms:

  • Blood in or on the stool (either bright red or very dark in colour)
  • A persistent change in normal bowel habits such as diarrhea, constipation or both, for no apparent reason
  • Frequent or constant cramps if they last for more than a few days
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • General stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness and/or cramps)
  • Frequent gas pains
  • A strong and continuing need to move your bowels, but with little stool
  • A feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • Weight loss for no known reason
  • Constant tiredness

Note: Many people diagnosed with CRC never had any symptoms or early warning signs. Above are the most common signs of CRC, but it is important to note that the symptoms are not unique to CRC – check with your doctor if you suspect a problem.

Risk Factors:

There is no “single cause” for developing CRC, but there some people who are considered to be at higher risk than the general population for CRC include:

  • People with a family history of CRC. If you have a first degree relative (parent, sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent) with CRC, you should get tested 10 years before his/her age of diagnosis. If he/she was diagnosed at 48, you should be tested when you are 38 years old.
  • People who have already been diagnosed with polyps or early stage CRC.
  • People who have inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease).
  • People with a family history of inherited breast cancer, uterine or ovarian cancer.
  • Middle-aged people, 50 years and over.

If you are at higher risk, you should talk to your doctor about being screened as soon as possible.

The possibility of a diagnosis of advanced CRC in patients in their 40s is not uncommon and CRC has been seen in patients in their 20s. If you are concerned, get screened – there is not a health advantage to inaction.

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