Cancer of the colon or rectum is also called colorectal cancer. In the United States, it is the fourth most common cancer in men and women.
It is more common in people over 50, and the risk increases with age. You are also more likely to get it if you have
• Polyps – growths inside the colon and rectum that may become cancerous
• A diet that is high in fat
• A family history or personal history of colorectal cancer
• Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
Symptoms can include blood in the stool, narrower stools, a change in bowel habits and general stomach discomfort.
Ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes ulcers in the lining of the rectum and colon. It is one of a group of diseases called inflammatory bowel disease. Ulcers form where inflammation has killed the cells that usually line the colon.
Ulcerative colitis can happen at any age, but it usually starts between the ages of 15 and 30. It tends to run in families. The most common symptoms are pain in the abdomen and bloody diarrhea. Other symptoms may include anemia, severe tiredness, weight loss, loss of appetite, bleeding from the rectum, sores on the skin and joint pain. Childrenwith the disease may have growth problems.
Crohn’s disease causes inflammation of the digestive system. It is one of a group of diseases called inflammatory bowel disease. The disease can affect any area from the mouth to the anus. It often affects the lower part of the small intestine called the ileum.
Crohn’s disease seems to run in some families. It can occur in people of all age groups but is most often diagnosed in young adults. Common symptoms are pain in the abdomen and diarrhea. Bleeding from the rectum, weight loss, joint pain, skin problems and fever may also occur. Children with the disease may have growth problems. Other problems can include intestinal blockage and malnutrition.
A polyp is an extra piece of tissue that grows inside your body. Colonic polyps grow in the large intestine, or colon. Most polyps are not dangerous. However, some polyps may turn into cancer or can already be cancer.
Anyone can get polyps, but certain people are more likely than others. You may have a greater chance of getting polyps if you
• Are over age 50
• Have had polyps before
• Have a family member with polyps
• Have a family history of colon cancer
Most colon polyps do not cause symptoms. If you have symptoms, they may include blood on your underwear or on toilet paper after a bowel movement, blood in your stool, or constipation or diarrhea lasting more than a week.
Diverticulosis and Diverticulitis
Diverticula are small pouches that bulge outward through the colon, or large intestine. If you have these pouches, you have diverticulosis. This condition becomes more common as people age. About half of all people over age 60 have it. Doctors believe the main cause is a low-fiber diet.
Most people with diverticulosis don’t have symptoms. Sometimes it causes mild cramps, bloating or constipation. A high-fiber diet and mild pain reliever will often relieve symptoms.
If the pouches become inflamed or infected, you have diverticulitis. The most common symptom is abdominal pain, usually on the left side. If the diverticula are infected, you may also have fever, nausea, vomiting, chills, cramping and constipation. In serious cases, diverticulitis can lead to bleeding tears, or blockages. Treatment focuses on clearing up the infection with antibiotics, resting the colon and preventing future problems. A serious case may require a hospital stay.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a problem that affects the large intestine. It can cause abdominal cramping, bloating and a change in bowel habits. Some people with the disorder have constipation. Some have diarrhea. Some go back and forth between constipation and diarrhea. Although IBS can cause a great deal of discomfort, it does not harm the intestines.
IBS is a common disorder and happens more often in women than men. No one knows the exact cause of IBS. There is no specific test for IBS. However, your doctor may run tests to be sure you don’t have other diseases. These tests may include stool sampling tests, blood tests and x-rays.
Source: NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases