Over 140,000 Americans get diagnosed with colorectal cancer each year. Colorectal cancer is defined to be cancer of the colon (large intestine) and rectum and is the second leading cause of cancer death among men and women in the United States.

Luckily, if caught early, colorectal cancer is highly treatable with chemotherapy and surgery. Here are some symptoms, ways to get screened, and tips for prevention to keep your gut safe and healthy!


The beginning stages of colorectal cancer might not cause any symptoms, which is why having regular screening after age 50 is extremely important. However, some of the symptoms associated with colorectal cancer include:

  • Blood in or on stool during bowel movements
  • Changes in bowel movements including diarrhea or constipation
  • Stomach pains, such as stomachaches or cramps, that don’t go away
  • Feeling like your bowels don’t empty completely
  • Sudden, unexpected weight loss

Keep in mind though, all of these symptoms can be signs of other things going on in your body so make sure you talk to a doctor about any symptoms.

Screening Tests

Colorectal cancer risks increase with age – in fact, 90% of colorectal cancer cases occur in people 50 years or older. The Colon Cancer Alliance recommends everyone (both men AND women) get screened regularly. They estimate that with regular screening, almost 80% of colorectal cancer deaths can be caught early enough to be successfully treated.

The most commonly used screening is the colonoscopy. Doctors will use a long, flexible tube attached to a camera and monitor is used to see the inside of your colon. Unless you’re at high risk of colorectal cancer (due to genetic reasons or otherwise), this is usually done every 10 years starting at age 50.

In some special circumstances, your doctor might recommend a virtual colonoscopy. This is when multiple CT scans are taken of the colon and joined together to see details of the inside of the colon – usually done in place of a traditional colonoscopy.

Tips for Prevention

While there are some genetic factors that can’t be changed, there are also some lifestyle habits that can help you lower your risk of colorectal cancer:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a low-fat diet
  • Exercising regularly and staying active
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol consumption

There is preliminary research suggesting that taking probiotics regularly can lower the risk of colorectal cancer. While those results are still in the beginning stages and aren’t totally conclusive yet, there are other benefits to probiotics. As always, discuss any concerns and questions with your doctor for the best way to live a healthy lifestyle.

Like what you see? Sign up to join Human Health Project, a community-based, not-for-profit website focused on using peer to peer health support for a healthier you.