Colorectal Cancer Toolkit

Colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in either the colon or the rectum. Colon cancer and rectal cancer have many features in common.

Colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer and cause of cancer-related death among both men and women in Indiana. In 2016, the American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that 2,980 Hoosiers will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 1,070 will die because of the disease. The lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer is about 5 percent for both men and women in the United States. In Indiana, African-Americans have higher colorectal cancer incidence and mortality than whites, and men have higher rates than women.

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Who gets Colorectal Cancer Most Often?

Sex and age are the two greatest risk factors for developing colorectal cancer. During 2009-2013, colorectal cancer incidence rates were 26 percent higher among Indiana men than women. Additionally, 91 percent of cases were diagnosed among Indiana residents ages 50 and older during that same time period.

Some additional risk factors for colorectal cancer include:

  • Race. In Indiana, during 2009-2013, African-Americans had a 14 percent higher incidence rate (49.6 versus 43.5 cases per 100,000) and a 39 percent higher mortality rate (21.8 versus 15.6 deaths per 100,000 people) when compared with whites.
  • Smoking. According to The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress, smoking is a known cause of colorectal cancer. In addition, smoking increases the failure rate of treatment for all cancers.
  • Diabetes. Studies show that individuals with type 2 diabetes are at higher risk.Although diabetes and colorectal cancer share similar risk factors, this increased risk remains even after those are taken into consideration. Studies also suggest that the relationship may be stronger in men than in women. In addition, some research indicates that some dia­betic medications independently affect colorectal cancer risk. In general, colorectal cancer patients with diabetes appear to have slightly poorer survival rates than non-diabetic patients.
  • Personal or family history. Although a majority of colorectal cancer cases occur when there is no family history, risk is increased by having a personal or family history of colorectal cancer or polyps, a personal history of chronic inflammatory bowel disease, or certain inherited genetic conditions – for example, Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer) and familial adenomatous polyposis.
  • Modifiable risk factors. Overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, a diet high in red or processed meat, and alcohol consumption have been found to increase colorectal cancer risk. There are some factors that may help lower risk or even prevent colorectal cancer. Moderate daily fruit and vegetable intake has been shown to decrease risk. In addition, consumption of dairy products and higher blood levels of vitamin D appear to decrease risk. Intake of dietary folate, dietary fiber, cereal fiber, and whole grains is associated with reduced risk; specifically, for every 10 grams of daily fiber consumption there is a 10 percent reduction in cancer risk. Some studies suggest that long-term, regular use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as aspirin), and use of postmenopausal hormones may reduce risk; however, these drugs and therapies are not recommended for the prevention of colorectal cancer because they can have serious adverse health effects.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Colorectal Cancer

During early stages of colorectal cancer there are no symptoms. Late state signs and symptoms include:

  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in stool
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Cramping pain in lower abdomen
  • Weakness
  • Extreme fatigue

Early Detection

Colorectal cancer incidence rates have been decreasing for most of the past two decades in the United States. Nationally, from 2008 to 2010, incidence rates decreased by more than 4 percent per year in both men and women. The declines are largely attributed to increases in the use of colorectal cancer screening tests that allow the detection and removal of colorectal polyps before they progress to cancer. A similar trend has been seen in Indiana.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends colorectal cancer screening for adults ages 50-75 using one of the following tests:

  • High-sensitivity fecal occult blood test (FOBT) – This is a test obtained from a health care provider for use at home. The FOBT can detect small quantities of blood in the stool that may be caused by cancerous tumors or large polyps. This test should be done once per year.
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy – This is a slender, flexible, hollow, lighted tube that is inserted by a trained examiner to provide a visual examination of the rectum and lower one-third of the colon (also known as the sigmoid colon). This test should be done every five years. (When done in combination with a high-sensitivity FOBT, the FOBT should be done every three years, as opposed to annually.)
  • Colonoscopy – Similar to flexible sigmoidoscopy, a colonoscopy allows for direct visual examination of the colon and rectum. This test allows for visualization of the entire colon, and allows for the removal of any polyps that may be present. This test should be done every 10 years.

It is important to note that if anything unusual is found during either the FOBT test or flexible sigmoidoscopy, a colonoscopy is used as a follow-up test. Individuals should talk to their doctors about which screening test is right for them. Individuals who have an increased risk of developing the disease should talk to their health care provider about whether earlier or more intensive screening is needed.

In recent years, an increase in colorectal cancer incidence among younger adults has been identified in the United States. Therefore, timely evaluation of symptoms consistent with colorectal cancer in adults under age 50 is especially important.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), screening colonoscopies are covered by most insurers. It is important to talk to your health care provider and your health insurance any about possible costs. For more information on the ACA, visit Indiana residents can also visit for information on the Healthy Indiana Plan, which covers colorectal cancer screenings. The public can also call 1-800-227-2345 to learn more about screening options in their community.


You can take charge of your own health! Some behaviors that can help reduce your risk include:

  • Obtaining regular screenings
  • Avoiding tobacco products
  • Maintaining a healthy weight throughout life
  • Adopting a physically active lifestyle
  • Limiting consumption of alcohol
  • Consuming a healthy diet that emphasizes plant sources, supports a healthy weight, includes at least 2 ½ cups of a variety of vegetables and fruit each day, includes whole grains in preference to processed grains, and has minimal processed and red meats
  • Supporting initiatives, such as the National Colorectal Cancer Roundtable’s 80% by 2018 campaign, that aim to increase colorectal cancer screening
  • Taking the 80% by 2018 Pledge!


Due to advances in treatment and earlier screenings, more and more people are living after a cancer diagnosis. The ACS defines a cancer survivor as any person who has been diagnosed with cancer, from the time of diagnosis through the balance of life. According to the Indiana State Cancer Registry, as of December 31, 2012, there were an estimated 286,973 cancer survivors for all cancers combined; the four highest-burden cancers in the state (breast, colorectal, lung and prostate) account for approximately 56 percent of these survivors. Survivorship, like cancer itself, is complex and can be difficult to navigate.

According to the Indiana Cancer Facts and Figures 2015 report, there are three phases of cancer survival – the time from diagnosis to the end of initial treatment, the transition from treatment to extended survival, and long-term survival. More often than not, the terms “survivor” and “survivorship” are associated with the transitional period after treatment ends; however, survivorship includes a wide range of cancer experiences and paths3, including:

  • Living cancer-free for the remainder of life;
  • Living cancer-free for many years, but experiencing one or more serious, late complications of treatment;
  • Living cancer-free for many years, but dying after a late recurrence;
  • Living cancer-free after the first cancer is treated, but developing a second cancer;
  • Living with intermittent periods of active disease requiring treatment; and
  • Living with cancer continuously without a disease-free period.

The preferred path for most cancer patients is to receive treatment and be “cured.” This is the primary goal of all cancer treatment, when possible. For many cancer patients, the initial course of treatment is successful and the cancer does not return.

Many cancer survivors must still cope with the mid- and long-term effects of treatment, as well as any psychological effects – such as fear of returning disease. It is important that cancer patients, caregivers, and survivors have the information and support needed to help minimize these effects and improve quality of life and treatment.

As of January 2, 1012, the ACS reports that there were almost 1.2 million Americans alive with a history of colorectal cancer. Some were cancer-free, and others still had evidence of cancer and may have been undergoing treatment.

According to the ACS, the five-year relative survival rate varies depending on the cancer stage. When detected at the local stage (cancer that has not spread beyond the colon or rectum), the five-year survival rate is 90 percent. In Indiana, during 2009-2013, 43.3 percent of colorectal cancers were identified before or in the local stage. If the cancer has spread regionally, the five-year survival rate is 70 percent. If the cancer has spread distantly, the five-year survival rate drops to only 13 percent.

There are multiple treatment options available for colorectal cancer patients including surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy – often these are done in combination. Side effects of colorectal cancer treatment can include pain, fatigue (possibly for an extended period of time), constipation or diarrhea, a temporary of permanent colostomy, sexual dysfunction (erectile dysfunction in men), skin irritation, nausea, hair loss, swelling and rashes, low blood cell counts, dry skin, high blood pressure, clots in arteries or veins, and kidney damage. Side effects vary based on the type of treatment, the type and dosage of drugs, and the length of treatment.

In 2006, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) issued a report titled From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition. The report recommends that every cancer patient receives an individualized survivorship care plan that includes guidelines for monitoring and maintaining their health. In response to the IOM recommendation, many groups have now developed various types of “care plans” to help improve the quality of life of survivors as they move beyond their cancer treatment.

A treatment summary is critical for cancer survivors. The summary should describe the cancer diagnosis and medical treatments that were received (or that may be needed moving forward). Not only does the treatment summary provide survivors with a record of cancer treatments, but it helps survivors talk with other health care providers who may not have been part of the cancer care team.

According to the ACS, in addition to a treatment summary, a survivorship care plan should include a description of what follow-up appointments and tests will be needed and when they will be needed, a description of preventive measures that can be taken to help stay well, a description of any possible side effects from cancer treatments and ways to manage those side effects, and a description of ways to manage physical and mental health.

There are several organizations that assist with the development of survivorship care plans, including the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Journey Forward and LIVESTRONG Care Plan. A list of additional organizations can be found on the ACS website.


  • Colorectal Cancer Fact Sheet — Use this fact sheet to educate your partners and communities. The fact sheet provides information and statistics on the colorectal cancer burden in Indiana.
  • Sample Press Release for Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (March) — This press release is designed to be customized and sent to local media outlets. County level data is available using the Indiana State Cancer Registry Statistics Report Generator.
  • Sample Social Media Messages — These sample messages can be customized, or used as they are to promote awareness, prevention, and early detection.
  • 2015 Indiana Facts and Figures: Colon & Rectum — Provides current statistics and information on colorectal cancer in Indiana in convenient PDF form. This can be linked to documents, websites, presentations, or through social media.
  • Indiana Cancer Control Plan (ICCP) 2010-2014 — Provides a roadmap for cancer control in Indiana. The ICCP includes six focus areas: primary prevention, early detection, treatment, quality of life, data, and advocacy. This can be linked to documents, websites, presentations, or through social media.
  • HIP 2.0 – Provides information on the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP 2.0), which provides coverage for qualified low-income Hoosiers ages 19 to 64, who are interested in participating in a low-cost, consumer-driven health care program.
  • – Provides information on the ACA.


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