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Google Search Cancer

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer is the growth of cancer in the large intestine. The large intestine, or colon, absorbs water and nutrients from foods. After, the colon passes the solid waste to the rectum for storage, before it is eliminated from the body.


Colon Cancer
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Eventually these uncontrolled cells form a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues and spread to other parts of the body. It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.

Risk Factors

Being over 50 years old increases your chance of colon cancer. Other factors that may increase your chance of colon cancer include:

  • Hereditary conditions such as familial adenomatous polyposis
  • Personal history of colon or rectal cancer, or polyps
  • Family history of colon or rectal cancer, especially a parent, sibling, or child
  • History of ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Diets high in meat, and low in fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Heavy alcohol intake
  • Physical inactivity

Symptoms

In most cases, there are no symptoms with colon cancer. When symptoms do appear, they may include:

  • A change in bowel habits
  • Blood, either bright red, or black and tarry, in the stool
  • Stools that are narrower than usual
  • Diarrhea, constipation, or feeling that the bowel does not empty completely
  • General abdominal discomfort, such as frequent gas pains, bloating, fullness, and/or cramps
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Constant feeling of fatigue or tiredness

Diagnosis

Tests used to identify potential colon cancers include:

  • Fecal occult blood test
  • Colonoscopy
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Barium enema
  • CT colonography

Additional tests may confirm the presence of colon cancer, determine what stage the cancer is in, and/or determine if the cancer has spread:

  • Biopsy
  • Polypectomy
  • CT scan
  • PET scan
  • Transrectal ultrasound
  • Blood tests to look for anemia and cancer markers in the blood

Treatment

Treatment may include one or more of the following options:

  • Surgery
    • Polypectomy and local excision 
    • Partial colectomy 
    • Laparoscopic-assisted colectomy 
    • Total colectomy 
  • Radiation Therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted Therapy

Prevention

Screening

The causes of most cancers are not known. However, it is possible to prevent many colon and rectal cancers by finding and removing polyps that could become cancerous. Beginning at age 50, both men and women at average risk should follow one of the following screening options:

  • Colonoscopy every 10 years
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy every 5 years
  • CT colonography every 5 years
  • Double-contrast barium enema every 5 years
  • MR colonography every 5 years
  • Stool DNA test every 3 years
  • Annual fecal occult blood test (FOBT)
  • Annual fecal immunochemical test (FIT)

People with any of the following risk factors should begin colon and rectal cancer screening earlier and/or undergo screening more often:

  • African American or Native Americans
  • Strong family history of colon or rectal cancer, or polyps
  • Family history of hereditary colon or rectal cancer syndromes
  • History of colon or rectal cancer, or adenomatous polyps
  • History of chronic inflammatory bowel disease

Lifestyle Changes

There are lifestyle changes that may reduce your risk of colon cancer, such as:

  • Not smoking
  • Eating a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and low in red meat
  • Being physically active by exercising at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week
  • Reducing your alcohol intake
  • Maintaining a healthy weight

Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.