Colorectal Cancer FAQs

Colon Cancer Questions & Answers

Find answers to commonly asked questions about colorectal cancer, including common causes, risk factors, progression, prevention and other helpful information.

What are the genetic mutations associated with colorectal cancer?

Most cases of colorectal cancer aren’t hereditary, but a small portion is caused by gene mutations (changes) passed down in families. The two most common hereditary colorectal cancers are hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer and familial adenomatous polyposis.

Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC)

Also known as Lynch syndrome or cancer family syndrome, HNPCC refers to colon cancer when very few or no polyps are found. This type of colon cancer often appears on the right side of the colon and occurs at a younger age than non-hereditary colon cancers.

Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP)

This rare type of colon cancer is caused by inherited changes in a gene that controls cell growth. FAP is characterized by hundreds or thousands of colon polyps, sometimes appearing in the teenage years.

How fast does colon cancer grow?

Colorectal cancer usually begins as small polyps, which can take 10-15 years to become cancer and may not cause symptoms. Regular colorectal cancer screenings help doctors find and remove these polyps before cancer has a chance to grow. 

How treatable is colon cancer?

When colorectal cancer is found early, it can often be cured. The American Cancer Society estimates the five-year survival rate at 90% for early-stage colorectal cancers. 

Can colorectal cancer be prevented?

No cancer is 100% preventable, but several risk factors for colorectal cancer are within your control. You can reduce your risk of colon cancer by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting red or processed meats in your diet
  • Getting regular exercise
  • Avoiding tobacco products (especially long term)
  • Minimizing alcohol consumption

How common is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is the 3rd most common type of cancer in the U.S. for men and women and the 2nd most common cause of cancer death. An estimated 1 in 20 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer annually.

Where does colorectal cancer spread?

Colorectal cancer cells can travel through the blood or lymph system to other parts of the body. When it spreads, it typically affects the liver, lungs and brain.

What kind of pain does colorectal cancer cause?

In the early stages, colorectal cancer might not cause pain or any other symptoms. In more advanced stages, cramping or abdominal pain can be a symptom of colorectal cancer.

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