Understanding Colon Cancer | Symptoms | Diagnosing and Staging | Risk Factors | Resources
Most colon cancers begin as a growth called a polyp and develop slowly over many years. Screenings, like colonoscopies, give your physician the opportunity to remove polyps before they become cancerous or to spot cancer at an early stage, when it is easier to cure.
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center offers comprehensive treatment for colon cancer from a team of experts who specialize in gastrointestinal cancers.
Cancer can begin in either the colon or the rectum, and it may be called colon cancer or rectal cancer, based on where it started. Sometimes these cancers are referred to together as colorectal cancer.
There are many similarities between colon and rectal cancers, but there are some differences in the ways they are usually treated.
In most cases, colon and rectal cancers develop slowly over many years. Most of these cancers begin as a growth of tissue called a polyp in the inner lining of the colon or rectum. Usually polyps bulge into the colon or rectum; some are flat.
Most people don’t have signs or symptoms of colon or rectal cancer early on. That’s why it’s important to have regular colorectal cancer screenings, which can detect cancer at early stages when the cure rate is high.
Cancer that starts in different areas of the colon or in the rectum may cause different signs and symptoms. If you notice any of the following signs or symptoms, let your doctor know:
Usually these signs or symptoms are caused by other conditions, like infections, hemorrhoids or inflammatory bowel disease, not cancer. Your physician can help you figure out just what is causing your symptoms.
Fred Hutch experts offer comprehensive care for colon cancer, including advanced treatments and new options available only through clinical studies.
Many patients are seen at our Colorectal Cancer Specialty Clinic. At this clinic, all of the specialists who will be involved in your care will meet to design treatment that’s tailored to you. You will receive a multidisciplinary treatment plan in a single day — truly one-stop shopping.
If you’re having an evaluation for colorectal cancer at Fred Hutch, most likely you’ve already been diagnosed with colorectal cancer. Your referring physician based your initial diagnosis on screenings, examinations and tests that may have included the following:
To fully understand your cancer and recommend a treatment plan, your Fred Hutch team will review your referring physician’s findings and may order one or more additional tests, such as:
The treatment that your physician will recommend for colorectal cancer will be based in part on the stage of your cancer. The stage depends on:
Colon cancers are grouped into stages I through IV, with stage I being the least advanced and stage IV being the most advanced.
The exact cause of colorectal cancer is not known. However, studies show that certain factors are linked to increased risk.
Fred Hutch’s Gastrointestinal Cancer Prevention Program offers a personalized approach to risk assessment, screening and prevention for people at high risk for colon cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers.
Using aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories or postmenopausal hormones might reduce risk of polyps or colorectal cancer. Talk with your physician to learn more.
There are many resources online for learning about your disease. Health educators at the Fred Hutch Patient and Family Resource Center have compiled a list of trusted sources to help you get started.
Whether you are newly diagnosed, going through treatment or know someone with cancer, our staff are available to tailor personalized resources and answer questions about support options in the community.
Our list of online resources provides accurate health information from reliable and reputable sources, like the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN).
American Cancer Society (ACS): Overview of Colorectal Cancer
If you have colorectal cancer or a caregiver for someone who does, knowing what to expect can be helpful. Here you can find out all about colon cancer in adults, including risk factors, symptoms and how they are found and treated.
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO): Guide to Colorectal Cancer
This is Cancer.Net's Guide to colorectal cancer. Here you can learn more about colorectal cancer, treatment, the latest research and clinical trials.
ASCO Answers: Colorectal Cancer
ASCO Answers is a collection of oncologist-approved patient education materials developed by ASCO for people with cancer and their caregivers. Here you can find illustrations and information on colon cancer.
CancerCare Treatment Update: Colorectal Cancer
The CancerCare Connect® Booklet Series offers up-to-date, easy-to-read information on the latest treatments, managing side effects and coping with cancer.
CancerCare: Colorectal Cancer General Information and Support
CancerCare provides free, professional support services for people affected by colorectal cancer, as well as colorectal cancer treatment information and additional resources, including financial and co-pay assistance.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) Guidelines for Patients: Colon Cancer
This step-by-step guide to the latest advances in cancer care features questions to ask your physician, patient-friendly illustrations and glossaries of terms and acronyms.
National Cancer Institute (NCI): Colorectal Cancer-Patient Version
The NCI is the federal government's principal agency for cancer research and training. Here you can find more information about colorectal cancer treatment, research and coping with cancer.
Our list includes local and national organizations that are dedicated to improving the quality of life for patients and family members through providing emotional support, education and community.
Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA)
CCA is the oldest and largest national patient advocacy organization dedicated to ending the suffering caused by colorectal cancer. To increase rates of screening and survivorship, the CCA provides patient support, public education, supports research, and conducts advocacy work across America.
Colon Stars is a local organization focused on saving lives by educating people about the importance of colon cancer screening.