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What is Colorectal Cancer?

Generally speaking, cancer is the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of cells; this uncontrolled growth leads to the destruction of normal, healthy tissue and cells. Colorectal cancer is any cancer that occurs in the large intestine, which is made up of the colon and the rectum.

Your body maintains a balance, constantly making millions of cells to replace cells that have died because of damage or age. Cancer starts when the balance is disturbed. Your body either begins to make more cells than it needs to replace the dying cells or cells don't die off when they are supposed to. The out of control cells can then form mass of tissue called a tumour. Tumours may be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous). When a tumour spreads from beyond where it started growing, for example, moving from the colon to the liver, lungs or elsewhere, it is said to have metastasized.

Colorectal Cancer Statistics

  • On average, 400 Canadians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer every week. On average, 167 Canadians will die of colorectal cancer every week.
  • One in 14 men is expected to develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime and one in 28 will die of it. One in 16 women is expected to develop colorectal cancer during their lifetime and one in 31 will die of it.
  • Overall, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death from cancer in Canada.

Risk Factors

The main risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Being 50 years of age or older.
  • Having a previous history of colorectal polyps.
  • Having an inflammatory bowel disease such as Ulcerative Colitis or Crohn’s disease.
  • Having a poor diet, notably one high in red meat consumption and low in fibre, fruits and vegetables.
  • Having a family history of colorectal cancer. (see more on hereditary syndromes associated to colorectal and other cancers)
  • Having a personal history of ovarian, endometrial or breast cancer.
  • Little or no exercise.


The most effective method of avoiding colorectal cancer is believed to be a healthy diet that is high in fibre, calcium, fruits and vegetables. There is some evidence that other dietary and lifestyle choices can reduce risk including:

  • Regular exercise.
  • A healthy body weight.
  • There is some evidence that taking micronutrients, like calcium, vitamin D, folate (folic acid) and selenium may reduce the risk of colon cancer; however, the evidence is not strong enough for all of these that such supplements should be routinely recommended for this purpose. Conduct your physician before adopting a diet including these or any other supplements.
  • There is also evidence that daily aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents will reduce the development of polyps or cancers.
  • For women, hormone treatments such as birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy are associated with lower risk. However, there are adverse effects from taking each of these medicines, and it is not clear that their benefit in reducing colorectal cancer outweigh their potential harms.

This infomation is from the Colorectal Cancer Association of Canada for more information go to

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