Colorectal (colon or rectal) cancer

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. When cancer starts in the large intestine (colon) or rectum, it is called colorectal cancer. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States. One in 20 people who have average risk for colorectal cancer will develop this cancer in their lifetime.

male looking at his phone for colon cancer risk factors

Colorectal cancer risk factors

Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older.

Your risk goes up if you have:

  • an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • a personal or family history of cancer or polyps in the colon or rectum
  • a genetic syndrome

Other things that can increase your risk for colorectal cancer are:

  • lack of regular exercise
  • not eating enough fruits and vegetables
  • eating foods high in fat and low in fiber
  • weighing too much
  • using tobacco products
  • drinking alcohol
provider talking to patient about his colon pain and possible colon cancer symptoms

Colorectal cancer symptoms

Call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • change in bowel habits
  • rectal bleeding
  • blood in your stool
  • stools that are narrower than usual
  • consistent pain during bowel movements
  • constipation or diarrhea lasting more than 1 month
  • general stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness, cramps, gas pains)
  • a feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
  • losing weight for no reason

The above symptoms can be signs of other problems such as ulcers, an inflamed colon or hemorrhoids.

routine screening by provider

Colorectal cancer routine screening

Colorectal cancer responds best to treatment when it is found and treated as early as possible. Screening (testing) starts at age 45. Allina Health recommends three screens:

Colonoscopy: A flexible tube with a tiny camera is passed into your rectum and through your entire colon.

  • There is prep before the exam.
  • This exam is done every 10 years.

Stool test (iFOBT): This is a kit you use at home.

  • There is no prep.
  • You collect a stool sample and mail it to a lab for testing.
  • This test is done every year.

FIT-DNA: This is a kit you use at home.

  • There is no prep.
  • You collect an entire stool and mail it to a lab for testing.
  • This test is done every three years.

Learn more about colonoscopies including how to schedule. 

Brochure: Considering your options for colorectal cancer screening 

athletic man walking and drinking water as part of a colon cancer regime

Colorectal cancer prevention

You can help prevent colorectal cancer.

  • Get regular screening tests.
  • Learn if your parents or siblings had polyps.
  • Eat foods low in fat and high in fiber. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Do not use tobacco.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.

Talk with your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns.

Want to know more?

Learn how Allina Health cares for colorectal cancer.

Explore our cancer resources

We created this collection of information and support to help you through this time.