Provider speaking with patient and taking notes patient looks confused

Colorectal cancer starts in your colon or rectum. Often, colon and rectal cancer are grouped together because they have many of the same signs, symptoms and treatments offered.

Most colorectal cancer starts as a growth on the inner lining of the colon or rectum in the form of a polyp. As it grows, it can latch onto blood vessels or lymph vessels that carry waste and fluid or can attach to lymph nodes.

One of the most common symptoms of colorectal cancer is changes in the way a person’s gastrointestinal (GI) tract functions. Other common symptoms include:

  • Having a hard time initiating a bowel movement
  • Changing the foods that you eat because some foods are not tolerated like they used to
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Abdominal distension and bloating
  • Severe nausea
  • Blood when passing a bowel movement

The chemotherapy treatment for colon and rectal cancers is vastly different than what most people think of the traditional stigma for chemotherapy treatment. Depending on how advanced the disease is, there is a possibility that you can function very normally with relatively advanced colorectal cancer because of the scientific advances made over the past 20-25 years.

However, the nation is currently facing an epidemic of young people with colon and rectal cancer that is presenting later and later in people that have essentially no other medical problems. Based on data from insurance companies, if you were born after the year 1990, your risk for developing colon and rectal cancer is roughly six times what it would be for your parents over the course of your lifetime.

Health experts aren’t sure why exactly this is happening, but they do know it is not because of a genetic predisposition or environmental exposure.

In this group of younger people, the disease is often more deadly because most clinicians are not aware of young people being diagnosed with colorectal cancer. The symptoms younger patients present with could be discounted because of their age.

Due to the prevalence of the disease in younger people and how the disease manifests itself, patients should be encouraged to talk to their health care provider about preventative screenings and physical exams to identify colorectal cancer.

Testing for colon and rectal cancer does not have to take the traditionally awkward and uncomfortable form of a colonoscopy anymore. Currently, the most common form is called a FIT test, which is short for fecal immunochemical test, which can be performed in your doctor’s office by providing a small stool sample. The stool is tested for DNA that would be consistent in stool with colon cancer. There are also at-home tests that can be purchased at your local pharmacy that would also serve as a preventative measure.

To find a location to be screened for colon and rectal cancer, visit You can also call the UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center – Cancer Screening Program at 502-210-4497. If you have symptoms, talk with your primary care provider as soon as possible.

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Article by: Russell Farmer, M.D.

Russell W. Farmer, M.D. is a colon and rectal surgeon with UofL Physicians. He is also part of the colorectal cancer multidisciplinary team at UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center. His areas of interest include colon and rectal cancer, fecal incontinence, inflammatory bowel disease and laparoscopic and robotic surgery. Dr. Farmer received his medical degree from the University of Texas. He completed his residency in general surgery and fellowship in colon and rectal surgery, both at the University of Louisville.

All posts by Russell Farmer, M.D.