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The truth about colon cancer

Colon cancer. Colorectal cancer. Rectal cancer. In addition to being associated with fear and worry, these terms are often used interchangeably and can be confusing.

Colorectal Cancer

The MayoClinic provides the following definitions:

  • Colon cancer is cancer of the large intestine (colon), which is the lower part of the digestive system.
  • Rectal cancer is cancer of the last several inches of the colon.

Both of these cancers are often referred to as colorectal cancers; cancers that initiate in the colon are called colon cancer, and cancers that begin in the rectum are called rectal cancers. Many colon cancers start with a growth on the inside of the colon, which are termed colon polyps.

Colorectal cancer also is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in the United States and your risk increases with age with more than 90% of cases occurring in individuals 50 years of age and older (Center for Disease Control).

Symptoms of colorectal cancers (WebMD):

  • Changes in bowel movements, including persistent constipation or diarrhea, a feeling of not being able to empty the bowel completely, an urgency to move the bowels, rectal cramping, or rectal bleeding
  • Dark patches of blood in or on stool; or long, thin, "pencil stools"
  • Abdominal discomfort or bloating
  • Unexplained fatigue, loss of appetite and/or weight loss
  • Pelvic pain, which occurs at later stages of the disease

Keep in mind that blood in the stools can also be a result of hemorrhoids, but it is critical to get evaluated by your doctor to determine the etiology.

Causes of colorectal cancers:

Although it is not definitive what causes these cancers in most cases, the following increase one’s risk of developing the disease:

  • Precancerous cells in the colon
  • Inherited gene mutations that include familial adenomatous polyposis and hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer

Other risk factors:

  • Older age
  • Being African American
  • Personal and/or family history of colorectal cancers or polyps
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions.
  • Diabetes
  • Low-fiber, high-fat diet
  • Being obese
  • Unhealthy lifestyle, such as being sedentary, smoking or heavy alcohol consumption

Diagnosing colorectal cancers:

  • Blood tests
  • Colonoscopy, which is a procedure using a small scope with a camera to look at the entire rectum and colon and then having any suspicious growths/polyps removed
  • Using dye and X-rays to make a picture of your colon
  • Using multiple CT images to create a picture of your colon

Treatements for colorectal cancers:

There are different stages colorectal cancers can be, and the treatment largely depends on the severity and progression of the cancer. Some of the treatments are surgery, drug therapy, chemotherapy and radiation.

For more information:

American Cancer Society

Local (Western New York)
Roswell Park Cancer Institute


  • Joyce Geyer, Buffalo Health Examiner 5 years ago

    Hi Neighbor: Great article,and good information.
    I write for Buffalo Health
    Buffalo Breast Cancer
    Hope to see you there, thanks!

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