Colon Cancer: What It Is, How It’s Diagnosed and How We Treat It

The pink areas of the diagram are those that can develop colorectal cancer.

Colon cancer is the catch-all name for cancer of the colon or rectum. The proper name for this disease is colorectal cancer.
The diagram shows the parts of the gastroenterological system that is subject to the development of colorectal cancer. It is the pinkish portions that are vulnerable to the disease.

How Colon Cancer Begins

Usually, most cases of colorectal cancer start as adenomatous polyps – a big word that means benign (noncancerous) clumps of cells. Over time, some polyps turn into colon cancers.
Often, polyps are tiny and produce few or no symptoms. To help keep patients from developing colon cancer, physicians recommend regular screening exams. 
Nevertheless, colorectal cancer is the third most common non-skin among men and women equally. Also, it is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. However, for the past ten years mortality rates have decreased across both genders and all racial and ethnic groups except American Indians, and Alaskan natives.

Who is at Risk for Colorectal Cancer?

More than 140,000 are diagnosed with colorectal cancer in the United States each year, and that places all of us at risk as a good number of these patients had no risk factors. Many things impact an individual’s probability or risk of developing colorectal cancer. Having a risk factor, or even several risk factors is not an indication that you will develop cancer. They serve as a guide for you in the event you want to lower your risk. So, here are some of the major risk factors for developing colorectal cancer,

  • Age – Colorectal cancer is more prevalent in people over 50, and increases with each passing decade.
  • Gender – The overall risk is equal for men and women, but women are at higher risk for getting colorectal cancer, and men are more likely to find out they have rectal cancer.
  • History of adenoma polyps – Polyps are common in people over the age of fifty, and most polyps are not precursors to cancer. That said, one kind of polyp called adenoma polyps increases the risk of colorectal cancer.
  • Family History – Parents, brothers and sisters and kids of people who had colorectal cancer are at increased risk of colon cancer. If two or more of your family members had colorectal cancer the odds for you increase to about 20 percent.
  • Personal History – Based on research, studies conclude that women with a history of breast, uterine, or ovarian cancer do have a somewhat higher likelihood of having colorectal cancer.
    • Patients suffering ongoing inflammatory condition of the colon such as ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease are at greater risk for colorectal cancer.
    • People who have been treated for colorectal cancer, especially prior to age 60 may develop the disease again.
    • Diabetics of either gender have a 30 to 40 higher risk of developing colon cancer.
    • Diet ­– Low fiber, high fat and cholesterol diets are linked to a heightened risk of getting colorectal cancer.
    • Race – The greatest risk of colorectal cancer is with African Americans. The lowest risk is shared by Asian-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos, American Indians, and native Alaskans.

Colorectal Symptoms

When caught early colorectal cancer is a highly treatable form of cancer. Even if the cancer has spread to nearby lymph node, usually responds well to surgery followed by chemotherapy. There are some things to be vigilant for as they may be a sign that you have you colon cancer, although most people have no symptoms when colorectal cancer is in its early stages. So when symptoms do appear, they vary depending on where the cancer is in your large intestine and its size. Following are the things that require diligence,
A change in frequency, regularity, or changes such as diarrhea, constipation, and stool consistency

  • Blood in your stool or rectal bleeding;
  • Ongoing distress in your abdomen such as gas, pain, and cramps;
  • Persistent feeling that your bowel does not fully empty;
  • Fatigue or weakness; and
  • Unexplained weight loss

Until age 39, men and women have an equal chance of developing colorectal cancer, but at age 40, while women still develop it, it is more prevalent in men.
If you are having any symptoms of colon cancer, make an appointment with your doctor.
Because early stage colon cancer often has no symptoms, doctors do screening tests that help diagnose colorectal cancer. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Protection recommends colorectal cancer screenings for adults age 50 to 75. Normally, the screening test is a simple lab test called a high-sensitivity fecal occult blood testing (FOBT), or a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy.

Treatment for Colorectal Cancer

There are three primary types of treatment for colorectal cancer. They are

  • Surgery;
  • Chemotherapy; and
  • Radiation

Before creating a treatment plan you will likely see a gastroenterologist (a colon specialist) and an oncologist (cancer specialist). Together with you, the doctors create a treatment plan. It is highly likely that if you have colon cancer and no other significant life-threatening disease, the team caring for you will recommend surgery followed by either radiation or chemotherapy.

Contact Us

Please contact us either by email or by telephone should questions pertaining to your personal situation need analysis. An appointment will be arranged at the earliest opportunity available. Our main office number is 408-729-4673.
Patients come to the Cancer Care Institute for the personalized treatment plans and the respect and compassion that begins with your first phone call to us.
Ly Viet Do, M.D. is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine College of Medicine and trained in Radiation Oncology at University of California Irvine City of Hope and Long Beach Memorial.  Prior to joining the Cancer Care Institute, Dr. Do was an assistant professor at the University of California, Davis in Radiation Oncology. Dr. Do has presented and lectured at many national and international conferences on brachytherapy, radiosurgery and comparative clinical outcome.