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UCLA's Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center

Colon and rectum cancers, usually referred to as colorectal cancer, develop slowly over a period of several years. Most colorectal cancers begin as a polyp – a growth of tissue into the center of the colon or rectum. In Los Angeles County in an average year, 3,910 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Of those, 1,400 will die.

Risk Factors
  • Age - The chance of having colorectal cancer goes up after age 50.  Median age at diagnosis was 71.
  • Health History - Some types of polyps increase risk, especially if they are large or if there are many of them. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease also increase risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Family History – Having close relatives with colorectal cancer increases risk, particularly if the family member was diagnosed before age 60.
  • Diet - A diet high in fat, especially fat from animal sources, increases risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Lack of exercise - People who are not active have a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Overweight - Being very overweight increases a person's colorectal cancer risk.
  • Smoking - Smokers are 30 to 40 percent more likely than nonsmokers to die of colorectal cancer.
  • Alcohol: Heavy use of alcohol has been linked to colorectal cancer.
  • Fecal Occult Blood Test
    Used to find small amounts of hidden blood in the stool. A sample is tested for traces of blood. Recommended yearly after age 50.
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
    A slender, lighted tube about the thickness of a finger is placed into the lower part of the colon through the rectum, allowing a doctor to look at the inside of the rectum and part of the colon for cancer or polyps. Recommended every five years after age 50.
  • Colonoscopy
    A longer version of the sigmoidoscope, a colonoscope allows the doctor to see the entire colon. If a polyp is found, the doctor may remove it. If anything else looks abnormal, a biopsy might be done. Recommended every 10 years after age 50.
  • Barium Enema with Air Contrast
    A chalky substance is used to partly fill and open up the colon. Air is then pumped in to cause the colon to expand. This allows good x-ray films to be taken. Recommended every five years after age 50.

Sources: American Cancer Society, California Cancer Registry

Last updated: 7/10/2008 10:51:26 AM