The body’s digestive system processes the food and liquids that we consume and prepares them for elimination from the body as waste. The large intestine, or colon, is part of the digestive system, along with the small intestine, esophagus, stomach, rectum (the last portion of the colon), and anus (the opening at the end of the rectum through which wastes passes).
Colon cancer is the formation of cancer cells in the colon. Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the United States .
Certain people may be at greater risk for developing colorectal or gastrointestinal cancer, including those who:
Most colorectal cancer patients don’t have any symptoms. However, as colorectal cancer tumors grow, the patient may develop certain symptoms, including:
If a doctor thinks a patient may have gastrointestinal and colorectal cancer, the doctor will review the patient's medical history, family history, and symptoms, and will perform a physical examination including digital rectal exam). The doctor will order other tests if necessary, including the following:
One of the biggest concerns about a cancer diagnosis is whether the cancer has spread (metastasized) beyond its original location. To determine this, the doctor assigns a number (I through IV) to the diagnosis. The higher the number, the more the cancer has spread throughout the body. This is called "staging."The stages of colorectal cancer include the following:
Treatment of colon cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, its location and on the patient’s general health. Several different types of treatment are used; sometimes different treatments are combined.
Surgery is the treatment used most often for colorectal cancer. Colon and rectal cancers require surgery if they are to be cured. Surgery usually involves removal of the cancer and some of the surrounding tissue. In most cases, the surgeon can reconnect the remaining healthy portions of the colon (anastomosis) after removing the cancer.
If the surgeon cannot reconnect the healthy portions of the colon, a colostomy will be necessary. A colostomy is an opening (stoma) through the abdominal wall into the colon. This opening provides a new passage for waste to leave the body. The colorectal cancer patient wears a special bag to collect the waste. In most cases, the stoma and colostomy bag are temporary, though for some patients they will be permanent.
The surgical procedures for colon cancer include the following:
Cleveland Clinic provides state-of-the-art laparoscopic surgery for a variety of colorectal conditions, including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diverticular disease, familial polyposis, chronic constipation, colon cancer and rectal prolapse.
A minimally invasive approach to surgery, laparoscopic procedures afford patients the benefit of smaller incisions, less pain, fewer heart, lung and wound complications and shortened hospital stay. “The best thing about laparoscopic colon surgery is that we can offer patients the results of a traditional, open surgery but with incisions that are only two inches long,” remarks Cleveland Clinic Chairman of the Department of Colorectal Surgery Victor Fazio, M.D.
In radiation therapy, high-energy x-rays damage or destroy cancer cells in order to shrink tumors. The radiation may be delivered by special equipment that directs the radiation from outside the body (external radiation). Rarely radiation may also come from an implant, a small container of radioactive material placed into or near the tumor.
Chemotherapy drugs are cancer-killing medicines given either intravenously (injected into a vein) or by mouth. Chemotherapy might be given before surgery to reduce the size of the tumor in order to make it easier to remove. Chemotherapy may also be administered after surgery to kill any cancer cells that might be left in the body.
Treatment of colon cancer varies depending on the stage of the disease:
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.