Colorectal Cancer Awareness

March is colorectal cancer awareness month, a time to remind adults age 50 and older that getting screened for colorectal cancer can make a difference. Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.

The Problem

Each year, around 140,000 people are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and more than 50,000 people die from this type of cancer (ACS, 2017; CDC, 2017). Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer diagnosed in both men and women. This means that in their lifetime, one in 22 men and 1 in 24 women will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer (ACS, 2017).  A recent study shows that colorectal cancer incidence is actually on the rise for younger adults over the past 30 years. The American Cancer Society estimates around 13,500 new diagnoses of colorectal cancer will occur in people under the age of 50 in 2017 (Siegel, et al, 2017).

Early stage colorectal cancer may not cause noticeable symptoms. This is why screening for this type of cancer is essential. As colorectal cancer grows, symptoms may include:

  • Changes in bowel habits.
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation.
  • Blood in the stool.
  • Abdominal pain, fullness or cramps.
  • Gas and bloating.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

The Solution

Screening for colorectal cancer can prevent the disease by detecting precancerous polyps that lead to colorectal cancer. Screening can also detect colorectal cancer at an early stage, when the cancer can be more successfully treated. Colorectal cancer starts when a polyp develops in the colon or rectum, later transforming into cancer. If polyps are found early, they can be removed, greatly decreasing the chances of developing colorectal cancer.

Screening for colorectal cancer can be done in a variety of ways, including several different types of stool tests and screening tests visualize the inside of the colon, such as a CT colonography, flexible sigmoidoscopy or a colonoscopy.

For most people, screening should start at age 50, and be repeated according to the results of the initial screening test and other health factors. However, if a patient has risk factors for colorectal cancer, or a family history of the disease, they may need to begin screening at a younger age. It is important for your patient to know the risk for this cancer to understand when to start screening and how often they should be screened.

Colorectal cancer can result from many factors such as a connection between a person’s genetic or family history, lifestyle, and personal medical history. The most common risk factors include:

  • Being age 50 or older (the risk increases with age).
  • Having a sedentary lifestyle.
  • Eating a diet high in red meat and processed foods.
  • Smoking.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Being overweight.

(ACS, 2016)

Your patient may be at an increased risk of being diagnosed with colorectal cancer if they have:

  • A personal history of inflammatory bowel disease like ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.
  • A family history of colorectal cancer especially if a parent, sibling or child had colorectal cancer.
  • A family member had colorectal cancer diagnosed before age 60.

Some colorectal cancers occur from genetic mutations from conditions such as:

  • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
  • MYH-associated polyposis.
  • Lynch syndrome.

(ACS, 2016)

Fast Fact: What Can You Tell Your Patients to Help Reduce Their Risk?

Ways to decrease the risk for colorectal cancer include:

  • Get regular screenings starting at age 50 for most, or earlier if you are at high risk.
  • Be physically active.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a diet high in fresh vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
  • Limit consumption of red meat and processed meats.
  • Limit the use of alcohol.
  • Don’t smoke.

Ask Your Patients…

Ask Your Patients

Image Source: American Cancer Society (2015)

Engage your patients along the continuum from wellness, discovery, testing, diagnosis, treatment, recovery and management. Support them with the education, resources and information they need will help them make informed decisions about colorectal cancer.

Elsevier Patient Education Wellness titles include:

  • Preventing Colorectal Cancer
  • What You Need to Know About Cancer Prevention (in development)
  • Heart-Healthy Eating Plan
  • High-Fiber Diet
  • Colorectal Cancer Screening
  • What You Need to Know About Smoking Tobacco
  • Smoking Hazards
  • Exercising to Stay Healthy

Discovery and Testing titles include:

  • Colonoscopy
  • Colonoscopy, Care After
  • Virtual Colonoscopy
  • Stool DNA Testing for Cancer (in development)
  • Stool for Occult Blood Test
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy
  • Flexible Sigmoidoscopy, Care After
  • Colon Polyps
  • What You Need to Know About Cancer Genetic Counseling (in development)

Diagnosis and Treatment titles include:

  • Colorectal Cancer
  • Laparoscopic Colectomy
  • Laparoscopic Colectomy, Care After
  • Open Colectomy
  • Open Colectomy, Care After

Recovery and Management titles include:

  • How to Increase My Level of Physical Activity
  • Coping with Quitting Smoking
  • Steps to Quitting Smoking
  • Managing Financial Stress of Cancer Treatment (in development)
  • What is a Cancer Survivor Care Plan? (in development)
  • Cancer Survivorship After Treatment Ends (in development)
  • Cancer Survivorship and Exercise (in development)
  • Cancer Survivorship and Nutrition (in development)
  • Cancer Survivorship and Stress Management (in development)

To find out more about Elsevier Patient Engagement visit

Author: Sheryl M Ness, BSN, MA, RN

Co-authors: Kate Ward, MPH, CHES  and Julibeth Lauren, PhD, APRN, CNS

Author Bios

Kate Nelson Ward, MPH, CHES is a Clinical Content Specialist for Elsevier Patient Engagement.  She is a Certified Health Education Specialist with experience in academic, clinical, non-profit, and international settings.  She has published and presented on patient decision-making, chronic disease coping, and pediatric nutrition and feeding.  She now specializes in addressing patient health literacy through supporting providers with quality content for shared decision-making and teach-back interactions.

Sheryl Ness, BSN, MA, RN is a Clinical Editor for Elsevier Patient Engagement. Previously she served 12 years as the manager of the cancer education program and associate professor of the cancer center within a large academic healthcare system. Her work experience includes practice as a manager, patient educator, faculty, nurse, researcher, blog writer and editor in the field of oncology, neurology and endocrinology. She currently holds a Master’s Degree in Nursing with a Post-Graduate Certification in Nursing Education. She has published and presented at both local and national conferences, and received awards for her work in patient education, curriculum design and oncology nursing. Sheryl supports the vision of engaging patients in a meaningful way that meets their individual needs as they navigate every step of the patient journey.


American Cancer Society (ACS). (2017). Colorectal Cancer Facts & Figures. Retrieved March 7, 2017 from

American Cancer Society (ACS). (2016). Colorectal Cancer Prevention and Early Detection. Retrieved February 27, 2017 from

American Cancer Society (ACS). (2015). Colorectal Cancer: Catching it Early. Retrieved March 7, 2017 from

Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017). Colorectal Cancer Awareness. Retrieved February 27, 2017 from

Siegel RL, Fedewa SA, Anderson WF, et al. (2017). Colorectal cancer incidence patterns in the United States, 1974-2013. J Natl Cancer Inst, 109(8). DOI:


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