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Colon cancer care

Comprehensive prevention, detection and treatment for people with colon and/or rectal (colorectal) cancer

Allina Health offers a complete range of holistic care aimed at preventing, detecting and treating cancers of the colon and rectum.

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What it is

Colon cancer and rectal cancer are sometimes grouped together and called colorectal cancer. Not counting skin cancers, colorectal cancer is the third most common type of cancer in the United States.

Colon or colorectal cancer is cancer that starts in the colon or rectum, which is the final part of your digestive or gastrointestinal (GI)  tract.

  • The colon is the first six feet of the large intestine, also called the large bowel
  • The rectum is the last six inches of the large intestine, which ends in the anus

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.

Symptoms of colon cancer include:

  • rectal bleeding
  • bloody or tarry stools
  • stools that are narrower than usual
  • pain during bowel movements
  • constipation or diarrhea lasting more than one month
  • general stomach discomfort (bloating, fullness, cramps, gas pains) for a period of time
  • a feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • weight loss for no reason
  • change in appetite anemia

Some people with colon cancer don’t experience any symptoms, which makes regular screening even more important.

Good to know

Colon cancer is one of the most preventable and treatable forms of cancer. Regular screenings help your provider identify and remove polyps before they turn into cancer. One in 19 people, or a little more than 5 percent, of Americans will develop colon or rectal cancer in their lifetimes. When colon cancer is diagnosed early, it has nearly a 90 percent chance for cure.

Because people are often uncomfortable talking about these parts of the body, colon cancer remains the third most common cancer in the United States and second leading cause of death from cancers that affect both men and women.

Average risk adults should begin regular colon cancer screening at age 50.

Patients should have a risk assessment to determine when to start screening. If you have a family history of colon cancer you are at increased risk, and you should be seen by a genetic counselor to determine when you should start screening.

Colon cancer risk factors include:

  • family history of colon cancer, rectal cancer or polyps
  • hereditary cancer syndromes such as hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC or Lynch) syndrome or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or chronic ulcerative colitis)
  • colorectal cancer or polyps
  • obesity
  • lack of exercise
  • diet high in red meat, processed meat or meats cooked at very high heat
  • diabetes type 2
  • cigarette smoking
  • drinking too much alcohol

For patients concerned about inherited family syndromes that cause colon cancer, we offer advanced genetic testing to let you know your risk.

Good for treating

Diagnosis

Diagnostic tests:

  • digital rectal exam (DRE)
  • fecal occult blood test (FOBT
  • fecal immunochemical test (FTI)
  • endoscopic tests (sigmoidoscopy/colonoscopy
  • endoscopic ultrasound (EUS)
  • CT
  • MRI
  • PET
  • double contrast barium enema
  • blood test for carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA)

Treatment

Your cancer care team will work with you to develop your cancer treatment plan. The plan is unique to your health, your cancer stage and your needs. Your plan could include any of these cancer treatment options:

  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy
  • surgery
    • polypectomy
    • colectomy
    • endoscopic mucosal resection
    • endoluminal stent placement

for patients with certain types of appendiceal cancer, cytoreductive (reduce the bulk of the tumor) surgery and intra-operative chemotherapy may be indicated

Good for preventing

Screening for colon cancer

Most people start getting screened for colon cancer at age 50. You should work with your provider to decide the right tests and schedule for you. If you have family history or are at high risk, you may need screening before age 50.

The most common screening is a colonoscopy.

If you are unable to complete colonoscopy, your provider may recommend:

  • CT colonography (every five years)
  • barium enema
  • fecal occult blood test yearly

Learn more about colon cancer screenings

Preventing colon cancer

Understanding risk factors can be the first step in preventing colon cancer.

Risk factors include:

  • age
  • family history
  • history of polyps in your colon, ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • high-fat, low-fiber diet
  • lack of exercise
  • obesity
  • tobacco and alcohol use

Talk to your doctor about your risk of colon cancer. Your doctor may recommend genetic screening to determine if you are at higher risk than normal.

The following suggestions can promote colorectal health.

  • Get regular screening tests
  • Keep a record of cancers or polyps if they occur in your parents or siblings
  • Eat a diet low in fat and high in fiber
  • Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Do not smoke
  • Get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight

Related links

Source: Allina Health Cancer Care
Reviewed by: Allina Health Cancer Care

First published: 6/4/2019
Last reviewed: 6/4/2019