Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month Q&A

By Terry Kelly


March has been National Colorectal Awareness Month since 2000. Colon and rectal cancers combined are the fourth most common cancers in the United States, and they are also the second deadliest cancer for both men and women in this country.

The American Cancer Society expects there to be over 135,000 new cases this year, and over 50,000 people will die from these diseases.

Colon cancer occurs when polyps, or small growths of cells, form tumors inside the colon (also known as the large intestine), with the last five to 10 inches of the colon being the rectum.

Where the cancer first forms is the main distinction between colon and rectal cancer, and the term “colorectal cancer” is commonly used to describe both.

We sat down with Vi Kien Chiu, MD, leader of the Gastrointestinal Team at the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center, to ask him about risks, symptoms and research advances in colorectal cancer.

What are some symptoms of possible colorectal cancer?

Blood in your stool would be concerning, as is abdominal pain that doesn’t go away. Rectal bleeding and pencil-thin stools (because it has to pass an obstructing mass in the colon) could also be signs. Weight loss for no discernable reason is kind of a later warning sign. If you take a blood test and you are found to have iron deficiency anemia or your hemoglobin or red blood cell count is low, that can also be a warning sign. Constipation can be a bigger issue in rectal cancer than with colon cancer.