Colorectal cancer

Colorectal cancer

Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP

What is Colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer also referred to as CRC, is cancer that starts somewhere inside the colon or rectum of the digestive system. It is the third most common cancer in the United States for both men and women, and although rates of CRC overall have been decreasing, the rates have actually been going up for younger adults. 

CRC starts off by abnormal cells developing in the colon or rectum. These often start out by becoming polyps, small growths of tissue along the intestinal wall. Not all polyps will become cancer, and if they do, it can take many years for them to develop into cancer. 

Signs and Symptoms

Someone may have colon cancer and not have any signs or symptoms of it being there. This is what makes screening tests so important, so cancer can be caught before it becomes advanced. If someone does have symptoms, they may include:

  • Changes in bowel patterns (such as diarrhea or constipation)
  • Fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Blood in the stool, or dark or tarry stool
  • Abdominal pain

Diagnostic Tests

If someone is having symptoms that may be concerning for CRC, a stool sample can be obtained to check for blood in the stool that might not be visible to the naked eye. If this test is positive, it’s likely a colonoscopy will be ordered. 

Not only are colonoscopies suggested if blood is present in the stool, but it may also be recommended to be done as a screening tool to detect colon cancer early.  During this procedure, a special camera is inserted into the rectum and moved up into the large intestine to evaluate the lining and look for any abnormalities. If a polyp or any area of abnormality is found, it can be biopsied and tested for cancer cells. A colonoscopy requires a day or so of preparation, where no solid foods are eaten, only clear liquids are to be consumed, and large amounts of laxatives are used to clean out the colon. This prep allows the gastroenterologist performing the procedure to get the best look possible at the intestinal wall. 

Once a diagnosis of CRC is made, the oncologist will likely order additional tests to learn the characteristics of the cancer. This can include molecular testing to see if there are any mutations present, such as BRAF, NRAS, or KRAS. Knowing if these mutations are present can help the oncologist come up with a treatment plan. 

Additional testing, such as CT scans or PET scans may also be done to determine if CRC has spread to any other areas of your body. Once all of the testing is complete, your oncologist can stage the cancer. 


Are you interested in learning more about colorectal cancer staging? Check out our next article on this topic.


Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP
Julie is an oncology certified Oncology Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of medical oncology experience. In addition to her clinical work, she is an accomplished healthcare writer providing oncology content for various publications. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member for a Master's nursing program and a chair for Doctoral nursing students.

Download our
mobile app

Share this post
You may also like
The Importance of regular Kidney Cancer Screenings
November 21, 2022

What is Kidney Cancer? Kidney cancer develops when the cells inside the kidneys become abnormal and start to grow out of control. There are multiple types of kidney cancer that can grow, each starting from a different type of cell in the kidney. Some cancers have screening tests available to…

Julie Scott, DNP


Who can benefit from cancerGO
January 18, 2023

CancerGO is a peer-to-peer support platform that provides resources, support, and information to cancer patients and their families. It is an initiative created to help cancer patients navigate the complexities of diagnosis, treatment, and recovery. But who can benefit from this platform? Below is a comprehensive look at how CancerGO…

cancerGO Founders


Prostate cancer: who is at risk and how to catch it early
November 8, 2022

What is Prostate cancer? Prostate cancer is common cancer in men. About 13% of men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. It’s important to know that prostate cancer is very treatable, even in its advanced stages.  Risk Factors The biggest risk factor men face for prostate cancer…

Julie Scott, DNP


cancerGO gives you access to a community

Where are people to listen, answer questions, share information, and offer valuable and timely advice