Colon cancer is the most common GI cancer. It often goes by the name colorectal cancer, which aptly describes the areas of the colon affected: from the lower part of the digestive system, or the large intestine (colon), to the last few inches of the colon (rectum).
The odds of developing colorectal cancer increase with age. Risk factors include:
- Family history
- The presence of polyps
While colon cancer continues to take many lives, colon cancer prevention, early detection and treatment can significantly improve outcomes ‒ and save lives.
Colon Cancer Prevention and Screening
Recommended screening for colon cancer starts at age 50 for average risk patients and age 45 for African Americans. Colonoscopy remains the gold standard for detecting precancerous polyps ‒ helping to stop colon cancer before it starts. Performing countless numbers of colonoscopies, our experienced board-certified gastroenterologists focus on colon cancer prevention through the removal of polyps. Precursors to the development of cancer, polyps become cancerous in about 10% of cases if undetected and left in place to grow.
In addition to a screening colonoscopy, adopting healthy lifestyle and dietary practices can reduce the risk of developing colon cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends:
- eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day
- substituting chicken and fish for red meat
- getting regular exercise at least 30 minutes every day
- maintaining a healthy weight
- avoiding smoking and alcohol
Colon Cancer Symptoms and Diagnosis
Colon cancer is often a silent disease in its early stages. Undergoing a screening colonoscopy at the recommended ages for average risk and high risk patients allows for early diagnosis and more effective treatment. However, colorectal cancer may develop in younger individuals, ones who have not yet reached the screening age guidelines of the American College of Gastroenterology. Regardless of your age, you should consult with your physician if you have:
- rectal bleeding or blood in the stool
- a change in bowel movements
- stool caliber (change in stool)
- persistent abdominal discomfort, such as cramps, gas or pain
- unexplained weight loss
Your physician will ask about your medical history and conduct a physical exam. At an initial office visit, you may undergo a digital rectal exam. Further testing will be determined based on colon cancer symptoms and preliminary exams.
More sophisticated tests, such as colonoscopy and possibly endoscopic ultrasound, may be required to provide additional diagnostic information. These procedures allow your gastroenterologist or advanced therapeutic endoscopist to obtain biopsies of any abnormal growths seen in your colon.
Colon Cancer Treatment
At NorthShore, we take a comprehensive approach to treating colon cancer through the programs and services of the Kellogg Cancer Center. A multidisciplinary team that includes GI experts meets weekly to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized colon cancer treatment plan.
When caught early, colon cancer often can be successfully treated with minimally-invasive techniques performed by highly skilled specialists, including advanced therapeutic endoscopists and laparoscopic surgeons. Other treatment options usually include a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
For More Information
For more information on colon cancer symptoms and prevention, or to schedule an appointment with one of our gastroenterologists, please call 847.657.1900.