Overview

Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, is a cancer that develops in the colon or the rectum. It usually develops slowly and begins as a non-cancerous polyp. A type of polyp called an adenoma has the greatest risk of developing into cancer.

Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Screening can prevent many of those deaths. Screening can detect polyps before they develop into cancers, and colon cancer is easier to cure when it is found early in development. When colon cancer is detected at an early stage, the likelihood of remaining alive five years after the diagnosis is much higher than if the cancer has spread to nearby organs or lymph nodes. The number of colon cancer survivors in the United States has topped one million, and this number continues to grow.

Signs and Symptons
Colon cancer can be present without symptoms, so screening is important. Signs or symptoms that might indicate colon cancer include:

  • Blood in your stools
  • Narrower than normal stools
  • Unexplained abdominal pain
  • Unexplained change in bowel habits
  • Unexplained anemia
  • Unexplained weight loss

These symptoms can also be caused by hemorrhoids, inflammation in the colon or irritable bowel syndrome. Talk with your gastrointestinal specialist if you experience any of these symptoms. People with a family history of colon cancer or a history of inflammatory bowel disease are at a higher risk of developing colon cancer.

Screening/Early Detection
Regular screening can help prevent colon cancer. Beginning at age 50, everyone should have a screening colonoscopy every 10 years. Colonoscopy  is the most effective screening for colon cancer.

Treatment
Treatment is most effective when colon cancer is detected at an early stage. Treatment may include surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy.