Colorectal cancer annually strikes about 140,000 people and causes 60,000 deaths, but is potentially curable if detected in its early stages. More than 90 percent of patients are over 40, at which point the risk of contracting the disease doubles every ten years.
High-risk factors include personal or family history of colorectal cancer, polyps (benign growths that may become cancerous), ulcerative colitis, or cancer of other organs.
Detection methods include a digital rectal exam and a chemical test of the stool for blood. Colorectal cancer can be prevented if polyps are detected and removed through an outpatient colonoscopy (examination of the entire colon), or an endoscopy flexible sigmoidoscopy (examination of the lower large intestine).
If symptoms such as rectal bleeding and changes in bowel habits appear, a colon and rectal surgeon should be immediately consulted to determine if the patient has colon cancer or another bowel disease, and the patient should be promptly treated as appropriate.