What is colon cancer?

Illustration of colon cancer in the descending colon.
Usually, in the early stages of colon cancer there are no signs or symptoms.

Colon cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the cells lining the large intestine (colon); some researchers include the rectum and prefer the term colorectal cancer. There are over 101,000 new cases of colon cancer every year in the U.S. Colon cancer is the third-leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. for both men and women. 

7 Causes Colon Cancer

Colon cancer (colorectal cancer) is caused by:

  • Age
  • Race
  • High-fat diets
  • Colon polyps
  • Genetics
  • Ulcerative colitis (UC)
  • Crohn's disease

What are the early warning signs of colon cancer?

Unlike some diseases, colon cancer typically dies not produce symptoms or signs in its early stages. This is why following screening recommendations is critical. The earlier a colon cancer is detected, the greater the likelihood of successful treatment.

Colon cancer may begin to produce symptoms and signs as it grows and expands. However, there is no specific sign or symptom that definitely indicates colon cancer is present. When signs and symptoms do occur, the following are some of the most typical signs of colon cancer:

  1. A persistent change in bowel habits
  2. Narrow or pencil-thin stools
  3. Diarrhea or constipation
  4. Blood in the stool, rectal bleeding (blood may appear as bright red blood or dark stools)
  5. Persistent abdominal pain or discomfort, such as cramps or bloating
  6. A feeling that your bowel doesn't empty completely
  7. Unexplained weight loss
  8. Fatigue, tiredness, or weakness

IMAGES

Colon Cancer Illustration Browse through our medical image collection to see illustrations of human anatomy and physiology See Images

What are the stages of colon cancer?

The stages of colon cancer refer to the extent of spread of the cancer at the time that it is identified. There are 4 main stages of colon cancer, referred to as stages 1-4.

  • Stage 1 colon cancer has spread from the lining of the large intestine into the muscular wall of the large intestine.
  • Stage 2 colon cancer has spread through the wall of the intestine to the outermost layer and may grow into adjacent organs.
  • Stage 3 colon cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the area or to other organs in the area.
  • Stage 4 colon cancer is metastatic colon cancer. It has spread away from the colon to other parts of the body such as the liver, bones, or lungs.
  • The term Stage 0 is sometimes used for a very early cancer that only affects the lining of the intestine. This has been also referred to as carcinoma in situ.

What other conditions have the same signs and symptoms as colon cancer?

There are other conditions that can cause the same signs and symptoms as colon cancer. Some of these conditions are very common.

QUESTION

What are risk factors for developing colon cancer? See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 11/19/2019
References
Colon cancer. NIH. Updated: May 15, 2019.
<https://www.cancer.gov/types/colorectal/patient/colon-treatment-pdq>
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