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Updated: 3/14/2022

Colorectal Cancer (CRC)

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  • Snapshot
    • A 68-year-old man presents to his primary care physician for fatigue. He reports a change in his bowel habits and noticed his stool is pencil thin. He also endorses an unintentional 20-pound weight loss over the course of 2 months. His father died of colon cancer when he was 65 years of age. He has never had a colonoscopy. Physical examination is notable for tenderness upon palpation in the left abdomen. Laboratory studies are notable for iron deficiency anemia. Colonoscopy is notable for a colonic mass in the descending colon.
  • Introduction
    • Overview
      • describes malignancy affecting the colon or rectum
      • most colorectal cancer arises from an adenomatous polyp
      • may be associated with an increased CEA
    • Epidemiology
      • incidence
        • incidence has decreased due to improved screening practices (e.g., colonoscopy)
      • demographics
        • typically seen in ≥ 60 years of age
        • men > women
      • risk factors
        • hereditary syndromes
          • Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer)
          • familial adenomatous polyposis
          • MYH-associated polyposis
        • environmental factors
          • diets high in animal fat
        • inflammatory bowel disease
          • ulcerative colitis
          • Crohn disease
        • cigarette smoking
    • Pathogenesis
      • chromosomal instability pathway
        • APC/β-catenin gene mutation
          • initiating event in adenoma formation
          • leads to the formation of an aberrant crypt foci
        • KRAS mutation
          • leads to unregulating intracellular signaling resulting in adenoma formation
        • p53 and DCC gene mutation
          • results in tumorgenesis and invasive cancer
      • microsatellite instability pathway
        • mismatch repair genes
          • abnormal methylation or mutations leads to cancer development in patients with Lynch syndrome and certain sporadic colorectal cancers
    • Associated conditions
      • Streptococcus gallolyticus (previously known as Streptococcus bovis)
        • although rare, can present with this bacteremia
  • Presentation
    • Clinical presentation depends on the location of the colorectal cancer
    • Symptoms/physical exam
      • asymptomatic
        • these patients can be found to have colorectal cancer upon routine screening
      • change in bowel habits
        • typically seen in cancer affecting the descending colon
      • rectal bleeding
        • typically seen in rectal cancers
      • rectal or abdominal mass
      • unexplained iron deficiency anemia
        • secondary to gastrointestinal bleeding
        • typically seen in cancer affecting the ascending colon
      • malaise, unintentional weight-loss, and fatigue
  • Imaging
    • Colonoscopy
      • indication
        • to visualize the colonic mucosa and obtain a biopsy from colonic mass to establish a histologic diagnosis
        • gold standard for evaluating for colorectal cancer
        • screening method
          • low-risk patients
            • screen at 50 years of age
              • continue performing every 10 years
          • first-degree relative with colon cancer
            • screen at 40 years of age or 10 years prior to the relatives age of presentation
          • for patients who do not want to undergo colonoscopy, other screening options include
            • fecal immunochemical test (FIT)
              • assesses for ocult blood in the stool
            • computed tomography colonography
  • Differential
    • Diverticulitis
      • differentiating factors
        • inflammation of the diverticula
  • Treatment
    • Treatment is geared towards the staging of the malignacy
    • Surgical
      • resection
        • indication
          • performed in localized disease
            • typically given with adjuvant chemotherapy
  • Complications
    • Colonic obstrucition
    • Bowel perforation
    • Metastasis
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(M1.ON.13.60) A 72-year-old male visits his gastroenterologist for a check-up one year following resection of a 2-cm malignant lesion in his sigmoid colon. Serum levels of which of the following can be used in this patient to test for cancer recurrence?

QID: 101117




Carcinoembryonic antigen



Cancer antigen 125 (CA-125)



Gamma glutamyl transferase



CA-19-9 tumor marker



M 4 E

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Evidence (7)
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