Colorectal Cancer 101 Overview

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Colorectal Cancer 101 Overview: Stages, Screening, and Treatment

Colorectal Cancer 101

Welcome to our guide on colorectal cancer, a disease that affects the colon or rectum. In this colorectal cancer overview article, we touch on crucial aspects such as screening, stages, treatment options, and patient stories. Through these stories, you’ll discover valuable insights from the very people who have been there.

We understand that facing this condition can be overwhelming, but remember that there are resources, guidance, and a community ready to stand beside you. Together, we can bring hope to your journey.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer is a type of cancer that develops in the colon or rectum, which are parts of the digestive system. It typically starts as polyps, which are abnormal growths in the lining of the colon or rectum and can progress to cancer over time. Early detection and timely treatment are essential for improving survival rates and outcomes.

Colorectal Cancer Symptoms

Learn about the early indicators of colorectal cancer from those who experienced them firsthand. Their stories explain the nuances of symptoms that may not always be immediately recognizable.

Common symptoms include:

  • Change in your bowel habits like diarrhea and constipation
  • Change in stool consistency, narrower than usual
  • Blood in/on your stool (bright red or very dark)
  • Stomach pain, discomfort, aches, bloating, fullness, or persistent cramps
  • Weight loss (unexplained)
  • Fatigue, feeling very tired
  • Vomiting
  • No symptoms at all (making screening critical)

Learn more about symptoms from our members.

“You hear a lot of people with colorectal cancer say they had blood in their stool. I think I’ve only had it at one point and it’s because I ended up having an emergency stent placed shortly after diagnosis because of the situation at hand. Even then, it was a couple of times. 

They say the number one symptom of colorectal cancer is no symptoms at all.”

Jason R. | Explore his Colorectal Cancer Story

Colorectal Cancer Screening

Regular screenings for colorectal cancer are crucial for early detection. The most common screening method is a colonoscopy, which allows doctors to examine the entire colon and rectum for polyps or signs of cancer.

Other screening options include stool tests, such as the fecal immunochemical test (FIT) or high-sensitivity guaiac-based fecal occult blood test (gFOBT), which detect blood in the stool that may be a sign of colorectal cancer. It’s important to follow the recommended screening guidelines provided by healthcare professionals to ensure early detection and intervention.

Stages of Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is classified into different stages based on the extent of the disease according to the American Cancer Society. Staging helps your healthcare professionals determine the appropriate treatment approach and provides insights into the prognosis.

The stages range from 0 to IV, with higher numbers indicating more advanced cancer. Each stage represents the extent of cancer growth and potential spread to nearby or distant organs. Understanding the stage is crucial for developing a personalized treatment plan.

Take our Colorectal Cancer Survey and get 10 Tips from Our Community on symptoms, diagnosis, treatments, and support.

Colorectal Cancer Treatment

The treatment options for colorectal cancer depend on various factors, including the stage, location of the tumor, and individual patient characteristics. Treatment may involve surgery to remove the cancerous tumor and nearby lymph nodes. In some cases, radiation therapy, which uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells, may be recommended.

Chemotherapy, either alone or in combination with other treatments, may be used to destroy cancer cells that have spread beyond the primary site. Targeted therapies and immunotherapy are also emerging as potential treatment options for certain patients. The choice of treatment is personalized and determined through thorough discussions between you and your healthcare team.

Finding Support

Colorectal cancer affects individuals and families in profound ways. Hearing from other colorectal cancer patients who have experienced similar journeys can provide inspiration, guidance, and a sense of community. Many organizations and support groups share patient stories that offer valuable insights and support to those navigating their own experiences with colorectal cancer.

It’s important to remember that each person’s experience with colorectal cancer is unique. If you or a loved one is facing this disease, consulting with healthcare professionals is essential to determine the most appropriate treatment plan based on individual circumstances.

Colorectal Cancer Patient Stories


Shannon M., Colon Cancer, Stage 1

Symptoms: Routine colonoscopy found polyp; found the cancer as a result of Lynch Syndrome
Treatment: Partial colectomy

Hugo T., Colon Cancer, Stage 1

Symptoms: Inflamed bowel; diagnosed 2 weeks after 5-year remission from testicular cancer
Treatment: Subtotal colectomy, immunotherapy

Rachel B., Sigmoid Colon Cancer, Stage 1

Symptoms: Stomach discomfort, nausea, bloating, blood in stool
Treatment: Colectomy

Chris T., Colon Cancer, Stage 2

Symptoms: Found the cancer as a result of family history & early colonoscopy; discovered Lynch Syndrome after genetic testing
Treatment: Partial colectomy

Shannon C., Colon Cancer, Stage 2A

Symptoms:Severe pains after eating; tested positive for Lynch Syndrome
Treatment: Partial colectomy
Barbara smiling

Barbara M., Colon Cancer, Stage 3

Symptoms: Stomach discomfort, difficult to process food
Treatment: Surgery (colectomy), chemotherapy (FOLFOX, CAPOX)

Shelley B., Colon Cancer, Stage 3B

Symptoms: None; found as a result of routine colonoscopy & endoscopy
Treatment:Partial colectomy, chemotherapy (FOLFOX)

Lindsay D., Colon Cancer, Stage 4

Symptoms: Lump in pelvic area, funny-smelling food, weight loss
Treatment: Chemotherapy, colectomy (surgery)

Lee J., Colon Cancer, Stage 4, Recurrence

Symptoms: None; discovered stage 4 cancer from unrelated CT scan
Treatment: Neoadjuvant chemo (FOLFOX), hemicolectomy (partial colon surgery), adjuvant chemo (FOLFOX), chemo post-recurrence (FOLFIRI), liver surgery

JJ S., Colorectal Cancer, Stage 4

Symptoms: Abdominal pain, blood in stool

Treatment: Surgery to remove tumor, chemotherapy, clinical trial of Keytruda (pembrolizumab)
Haley P. feature profile

Haley P., Colon Cancer, Stage 3C

Symptoms: Constipation, fatigue, shortness of breath
Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy
Amanda G. feature profile

Amanda G., Colon Cancer, Stage 2A

Symptoms: Gurgly stomach, blood in stool, chronic constipation
Treatment: Surgery (hemicolectomy), chemotherapy (CAPOX), Zarxio
Jason Randall describes his colon cancer journey
Jason R., Colorectal Cancer, Stage 4
Symptoms: Abdominal pain, constipation, belly button discharge
Treatment: Liver surgery, chemotherapy, radiation
Angelica A., Bowel Cancer, Stage 3

Symptoms: Fatigue, anemia, irregular bowel movements, loss of appetite, heavy periods Treatment: Laparoscopy, chemotherapy, partial hysterectomy
Danielle shares her stage 4 metastatic colon cancer
Danielle A., Colorectal Cancer, Metastatic Stage 3
Symptoms: Abdominal pain, constipation
Treatment: Surgery, Chemo
Keith shares his stage 4 colorectal cancer story
Keith H., Colorectal Cancer, Stage 4
Symptoms: Abdominal pain
Treatment: Surgery, Chemo
Sherrie shares her stage 4 metastatic breast cancer story
Sherri O., Metastatic Breast Cancer & Colon Cancer, Stage 3
Symptoms: Shortness of breath, lump under armpit, not feeling herself
Treatment: Chemotherapy, Transfusions
Dania M.

Dania M., Colon Cancer, Stage 4, with Liver and Peritoneal Carcinomatosis

Symptoms: Constipation, diarrhea, terrible bloating, swollen belly, as if pregnant
Treatment: Surgery, immunotherapy (KEYTRUDA)
Stephanie K.

Stephanie K., Colon Cancer, Stage 3

Symptoms: Very bad cramps, bloating, indigestion, burping
Treatment: Surgery, chemotherapy (CAPOX)
Jason A. feature profile

Jason A., Colon Cancer, Stage 3B

Symptoms: Abdominal pressure, fatigue, small amounts of blood in stool
Treatment: Surgery (colon resection), chemotherapy (FOLFOX: folinic acid, fluorouracil, and oxaliplatin)
Kelly shares her cancer story
Kelly B., Colon Cancer, Stage 3 Symptoms: Blood in stool, cramping, bloating
Treatment: Chemo, surgery
Courtney shares her colorectal cancer story
Courtney H., Colorectal Cancer, Stage 3A Symptoms: Blood in stool, fatigue
Treatment: Chemo, oxaliplatin, capecitabine, surgery
Zykeisha shares her stage 4 colon cancer story
Zykeisha L., Colon Cancer, Stage 4 Symptoms: Anemia, stool changes, blood in urine, back pain
Treatment: Chemo, Avastin, FOLFOX, FOLFIRI, surgery, Neupogen shots
Kyle R.M., Colorectal Cancer, Stage 4 Symptoms: Constipation, blood in stool
Treatment: Chemo, FOLFOX

Elizabeth W., Stage 4, Colon

Symptoms: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), B12 deficiency, Hypoalbuminemia
Treatment:Surgery (removal of left side of liver and small portion on the right), Chemotherapy (oxaliplatin and xeloda)
Amy L. feature profile

Amy L., Colon Cancer, Stage 4

Symptoms Slight change in stool consistency
Treatment: Chemotherapy, immunotherapy