Colon cancer care
According to the National Cancer Institute, colon cancer (also called colorectal cancer) is the fourth most common cancer diagnosed in the United States. Fortunately, colon cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer, if it’s caught early.
At Allina Health, we approach your colon cancer treatment with two important goals in mind. First, to provide the highest quality care for you as a whole person—not only treating your cancer but also addressing the impacts on your overall physical and mental wellness. Second, we strive to make your cancer care —from diagnosis to treatment to follow-up—as smooth and stress-free as possible, giving you the space to focus on healing and recovery.
Colon cancer care at Allina Health
At Allina Health, your team will include experienced and compassionate health care providers who work together to deliver expert care. This includes your primary care provider, nurse navigators, cancer researchers, surgeons, nurses, physical therapists, genetic counselors, diagnostic imaging technicians and more. Each team member brings deep expertise in their specialty area, and each is fiercely committed to your wellbeing.
Tests for colon cancer
Colon cancer responds best to treatment when it is found and treated as early as possible. Screening (testing) starts at age 45. Allina Health recommends three screens:
- Colonoscopy: A flexible tube with a tiny camera is passed into your rectum and through your entire colon. There is prep before the exam. This exam is done every 10 years.
- Stool test (iFOBT): This is a kit you use at home. You collect a stool sample and mail it to a lab for testing. There is no prep. This test is done every year.
- FIT-DNA: This is a kit you use at home. You collect an entire stool and mail it to a lab for testing. There is no prep. This test is done every three years.
Colon cancer treatment options
There are many treatment options for colon cancer, and new treatments are in development all the time. Your care team will help you create a treatment plan that is unique to you, your health, your stage of cancer and your needs. Cancer care can continue for months or years—with challenges and important milestones along the way. Your Allina Health care team is with you for every step.
Treatment options include:
- Polypectomy is surgery to remove polyps from the inside of your colon. It is usually done during a colonoscopy.
- Endoscopic mucosal resection uses a thin, flexible tube with a light, camera and instruments to remove precancerous or early-stage cancer from your colon.
- Colon or rectal surgery removes all or a portion of your colon.
- Chemotherapy is medicine given by mouth or through an IV (intravenous) line to destroy cancer cells throughout your whole body.
- Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation (X-rays) to shrink or destroy cancer cells.
How to prepare for your first visit
At your first visit for colon cancer treatment, you and your care team will share information, explore treatment options and begin to create a treatment plan, all based on your specific needs.
To guide the conversation for your first visit—and help you feel more informed about your situation—here are some questions you may want to ask your care team:
- How treatable is colon cancer?
- What stage of colon cancer do I have?
- What is the most common/recommended treatment for my colon cancer?
- How will treatment affect my daily life?
- Will treatment impact my fertility?
- Does colon cancer spread?
- Can my colon cancer be cured?
- What support resources are available to help me?
- Who should I contact if I have questions after I leave the office?
Find a colon cancer care location near you to schedule a consultation.
How to prevent colon cancer
As part of regular care with your primary care provider, you can talk about a colon cancer risk assessment. This may include reviewing your family history, looking at your diet and lifestyle, or getting genetic counseling. The risk assessment can help you figure out when you should begin regular screenings for colon cancer.
Here are some important things you can do to lower your risk for colon cancer:
- Get regular screening tests.
- Learn if your parents or siblings had polyps.
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Do not smoke.
- Get regular exercise.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Learn more about colon cancer risk factors, symptoms and prevention.
What causes colon cancer?
In colorectal cancer, cells in the inner lining of the colon begin to grow out of control, forming clumps of cells called polyps. Over time, some of these polyps can become cancerous. Doctors and researchers are not certain why this happens.
Your risk of getting colorectal cancer increases as you get older. Your risk goes up if you have:
- an inflammatory bowel disease such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- a personal or family history of cancer or polyps in the colon or rectum
- a genetic syndrome
Other things that can increase your risk for colorectal cancer are:
- lack of regular exercise
- not eating enough fruits and vegetables
- eating foods high in fat and low in fiber
- weighing too much
- using tobacco products
- drinking alcohol
If you have a higher than average risk for colorectal cancer, your provider will recommend you have a colonoscopy.
If you are concerned about inherited risks that cause colon cancer, Allina Health offers genetic testing to help you understand your risk.
What are the symptoms of colon cancer?
Symptoms of colorectal cancer include:
- change in bowel habits
- rectal bleeding
- blood in your stool
- stools that are narrower than usual
- consistent pain during bowel movements
- constipation or diarrhea lasting more than 1 month
- general stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness, cramps, gas pains)
- a feeling that your bowel does not empty completely
- losing weight for no reason
The above symptoms can be signs of other problems such as ulcers, an inflamed colon or hemorrhoids.
Some people with colon cancer don’t experience any symptoms at all, which makes regular screening even more important.
Is colon cancer genetic/hereditary?
If you or a close relative has had cancer, you may be concerned about your risk for a future cancer and what you can do to reduce that risk. A close relative is a parent, brother, sister, child, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew or grandparent.
You may wonder if your children or other relatives are at risk. You may also wonder if genetic testing is right for you. Genetic counseling can help answer your questions.
Genetic counseling may be right for you if you or a close relative had colorectal cancer at younger than age 50.
Source: Allina Health Cancer Institute
Reviewed by: Allina Health Cancer Institute
First published: 6/4/2019
Last reviewed: 9/10/2021