Understanding Colorectal Cancer: What Is Colorectal Cancer?
To understand colorectal cancer, it’s first important to understand what cancer is: basically, the production of abnormal cells.
The body is programmed to routinely replenish cells in different organs. As normal cells age or get damaged, they die off. New cells take their place. This is what’s supposed to happen. Abnormal cell growth refers to a buildup of extra cells. This happens when:
- New cells form even though the body doesn’t need them or
- Old, damaged cells don’t die off.
- These extra cells accumulate to form a tissue mass, lump, or growth called a tumor. These abnormal cells can destroy normal body tissue and spread through the bloodstream and lymphatic system.
Colorectal cancer is one of the most common cancers in the U.S. today. 90-95% of all colorectal cancers are adenocarcinomas. This is a cancer that begins in cells that make and secrete fluids such as mucus. These cells are in glandular tissue.
To better understand what an adenocarcinoma is, consider the word: Adeno means gland; Carcinoma is a malignant tumor.
Although these tumors are malignant, they all generally start from adenomas. Adenomas are pre-cancerous growths called polyps. The bigger the adenoma is, the more likely it is to become cancerous.
Colon polyps are a common occurrence. In fact, 25% of people over age 50 have polyps.
Benign vs. Malignant: What’s the Difference?
Benign means not cancerous. A benign tumor can get larger but does not spread to other tissues or organs.
Malignant means cancerous. A malignant tumor’s cells can invade nearby tissue and lymph nodes and then spread to other organs. These cells are destructive.
Can be removed
Usually don't grow back
Are rarely fatal
Don't spread to other tissues or body parts
Can often be removed
Sometimes grow back
Can invade other tissues and organs and cause damage
Can spread to other body parts
Can be fatal