While colon cancer is often combined with rectal cancer and referred to as “colorectal cancer,” it is important to know about the two different types, their location and their symptoms
About Colon CancerColon cancer is the third most common type of cancer in both men and women, and is the second leading cause of death from cancer in the United States. Colon cancer is cancer that forms in the lining tissues of the colon. Most colon tumors begin when normal tissue forms a polyp, or pre-cancerous growth projecting from the wall of the colon. As the polyp grows, a tumor forms. Because the tumor grows slowly, early detection is possible through screening and tests.
The colon is the largest part of the large intestine, also known as the large bowel. After food is chewed and swallowed, it travels through the stomach and small intestine where it is broken down and most of the nutrients absorbed. The colon's function is to change liquid waste into solid waste and prepare it to be expelled from the body.
Symptoms of colon cancer include:
- Bleeding from the rectum
- Blood (bright red or very dark) in the stool or toilet after a bowel movement
- A change, or narrowing of the stool
- Cramping or pain in the abdomen
- Feeling the need to have a bowel movement, but not having one
- Excessive fatigue
- Frequent gas, bloating or feeling of fullness
- Weight loss for no known reason
- Nausea and vomiting
About Rectal CancerRectal cancer is cancerous tissue that grows along and invades the wall of the rectum. Rectal cancer and colon cancer are very similar and share many common features. The difference in location creates important differences in how each is treated. Rectal cancer, like colon cancer, may start as a polyp that becomes cancerous.
Symptoms of rectal cancer include:
- Change in bowel habits including: diarrhea, constipation, feeling that the bowel has not completely emptied, stools that are narrow in shape
- Bright red or dark blood in the stool
- Abdominal discomfort
- Change in appetite
- Losing weight without dieting
It’s important to know that symptoms of colorectal cancer can look like symptoms of other conditions. Patients who experience any of these symptoms should contact their healthcare provider.
Schedule A ColonoscopyMost colorectal cancer is found through a colonoscopy. In fact, a recent study from Memorial Sloan-Kettering stated that colonoscopies cut colon cancer death risk.
During a colonoscopy, while the patient is under sedation the physician places a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing inside the rectum and colon. The scope also has a tool to remove polyps or tissue samples, which are checked for cancer in a lab.
Colonoscopies are recommended for men and women over the age of 50 as a standard preventive test. People at high risk for colon and rectal cancer or those with a family history of cancer should talk with their physicians about recommendations for screening.
View CANPrevent Colon Cancer – What You Need to Know to learn more about your risk for colon cancer.
Screening tests for colorectal cancer can detect cancer at an earlier, more treatable stage. Here, Greg Ginsberg, MD, director of endoscopic services at Penn Medicine, and physician at the Abramson Cancer Center, talks about screening for colorectal cancer.
Get screened for colorectal cancer. Schedule an appointment with a Penn physician today.