Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the large intestine (colon), which is the final part of the digestive tract.
Colon cancer typically affects older adults, though it can happen at any age. It usually begins as small, non-cancerous (benign) clumps of cells that form on the inside of the colon.
Signs and symptoms of colon cancer include:
A persistent change in your bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation or a change in the consistency of your stool
Rectal bleeding or blood in your stool
Persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
A feeling that your bowel doesn’t empty completely
Weakness or fatigue
Unexplained weight loss
Factors that may increase your risk of colon cancer include:
– Older age. Colon cancer can be diagnosed at any age, but a majority of people with colon cancer are older than 50.
– African-American race. African-Americans have a greater risk of colon cancer than do people of other races.
– A personal history of colorectal cancer. If you’ve already had colon cancer or non-cancerous colon clumps, you have a greater risk of colon cancer in the future.
– Inflammatory intestinal conditions. Chronic inflammatory diseases of the colon, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, can increase your risk of colon cancer.
– Inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk. Only a small percentage of colon cancers are linked to inherited genes. The most common inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome.
– Family history of colon cancer. You’re more likely to develop colon cancer if you have a blood relative who has had the disease. If more than one family member has colon cancer or rectal cancer, your risk is even greater.
– Low-fiber, high-fat diet. Colon cancer and rectal cancer may be associated with a typical Western diet, which is low in fiber and high in fat and calories.
– A sedentary lifestyle. People who are inactive are more likely to develop colon cancer. Getting regular physical activity may reduce your risk of colon cancer.
– Diabetes. People with diabetes or insulin resistance have an increased risk of colon cancer.
– Obesity. People who are obese have an increased risk of colon cancer and an increased risk of dying of colon cancer when compared with people considered normal weight.
You can take steps to reduce your risk of colon cancer by making changes in your everyday life. Take steps to:
Screening for colon cancer
Doctors recommend that people with an average risk of colon cancer consider colon cancer screening around age 50. But people with an increased risk, such as those with a family history of colon cancer, should consider screening sooner.
A few parameters control the treatment choice, including the location of your cancer, its stage and your other health concerns. Treatment for colon cancer usually involves surgery to remove the cancer. Other treatments, such as radiation therapy and chemotherapy, might also be recommended.
Chemotherapy for colon cancer is usually given after surgery if the cancer is larger or has spread to the lymph nodes. In this way, chemotherapy may kill any cancer cells that remain in the body and help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
Chemotherapy might also be used before an operation to shrink a large cancer so that it’s easier to remove with surgery. It can also be used to relieve symptoms of colon cancer that can’t be removed with surgery or that has spread to other areas of the body. Sometimes it’s combined with radiation therapy.
It might be used to shrink a large cancer before an operation so that it can be removed more easily. When surgery isn’t an option, radiation therapy might be used to relieve symptoms, such as pain. Sometimes radiation is combined with chemotherapy.
Targeted drugs are usually combined with chemotherapy. Targeted drugs are typically reserved for people with advanced colon cancer.
Immunotherapy is usually reserved for advanced colon cancer. Your doctor might have your cancer cells tested to see if they’re likely to respond to this treatment.