Colon Cancer: Diagnosis & Treatment

What is colon cancer?

Colon cancer which is a type of cancer starts in the large intestine (colon).
Colon cancer generally affects older people, though it occurs at any age.
It normally begins as small, noncancerous (benign) clumps of cells called as polyps which form inside the colon. Gradually some of these polyps can become colon cancers.

Polyps are small and produce few symptoms.
When colon cancer develops, many treatments are available to control them, including drug treatments such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.
Colon cancer is at times called as colorectal cancer, which is a term that combines colon cancer and rectal cancer that begins in the rectum.

Signs and symptoms

  • Blood in stool.
  • Rectal Bleeding
  • Change in stool frequency.
  • Change in stool appearance.
  • Rectal pain.
  • Abdominal discomfort.
  • Unintentional weight loss.
  • Anemia.
  • Fatigue

What causes colon cancer?

Colon cancer begins when healthy cells in the colon develop mutations in the DNA. Normally healthy cells grow and divide in a proper way to keep the body functioning but when cell’s DNA gets damaged and becomes cancerous, where cells continue to divide even though new cells aren’t required. The tumor occurs as the cells keep accumulating. Gradually, cancer cells grow to invade and destroy the normal tissue nearby and cancerous cells travels to other parts of the body to form deposits called metastasis.

Risk Factors

  • Older age
  • African-American race
  • History of colorectal cancer or polyps
  • Inflammatory intestinal conditions- Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are chronic inflammatory diseases that increase risk of colon cancer.
  • Inherited syndromes that increase colon cancer risk- Common inherited syndromes that increase cancer risk are familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) and Lynch syndrome, that is also known as hereditary non polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC).
  • Family history of colon cancer- If more than a family member has colon cancer or rectal cancer, risk is even greater
  • Low-fiber, high-fat diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle.
  • Diabetes- Insulin resistance people have an increased risk of colon cancer.
  • Obesity.
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Radiation therapy for cancer- Previous cancers treated with radiation therapy increases the risk of colon cancer.

Is there any way to prevent Colon cancer?

  • Screening colon cancer-Individuals with family history should consider screening.
  •  Lifestyle modifications to reduce risk of colon cancer
  • Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains- Foods rich in vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, play a vital role in cancer prevention i.e, Fruits, vegetables and fibrous food.
  • Avoid alcohol consumption
  • Avoid smoking
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. 


Surgery for early-stage colon cancer

Removing polyps during a colonoscopy (polypectomy)- If cancer is small, localized, in a polyp form and is in a very early stage, it can be removed during colonoscopy.

Endoscopic mucosal resection– Larger polyps can be removed along with lining present in colon using special tools by a procedure called an endoscopic mucosal resection.
Minimally invasive surgery (laparoscopic surgery) – Polyps which cannot be removed during a colonoscopy can be removed using laparoscopic surgery.

Surgery for advanced colon cancer

  • If cancer has grown into the colon or through the colon partial
    colectomy is done.
  • Partial colectomy
    During the procedure, the part of colon that contains cancer is removed, along with an edge of normal tissue on either side of the cancer.
  • Removal of Lymph node
    Nearby lymph nodes is removed during colon cancer surgery and tested for cancer.


  • Chemotherapy is drug used to destroy cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy drugs for colon cancer are generally given after surgery if the cancer is large or has spread to the lymph nodes.
  • In this process, chemotherapy may kill any cancer cells that remain in the body and help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.
  • Chemotherapy drugs can also be used to relieve symptoms of colon cancer that cannot be removed with surgery or which has spread to other areas of the body.
  • People with low-risk stage III colon cancer, a short course of chemotherapy after surgery may be possible.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy uses powerful energy sources, such as X-rays and protons, to kill the cancer cells.
It can be used to shrink a large cancer before an operation so that it can be extracted more easily.
Radiation therapy might be used to relieve symptoms, such as pain, whenever surgery is not an option.
Sometimes radiation is combined with chemotherapy.

Targeted drug therapy

  • Targeted drug treatment focuses on specific abnormalities that are present within the cancer cells.
  • By blocking these abnormalities, targeted drug therapy can cause the cancer cells to die.
  • Targeted therapy drugs are usually combined with chemotherapy.
  • They are typically reserved for individuals with advanced colon cancer.


  • Immunotherapy is the drug treatment that uses immune system to fight against cancer.
  • The body’s disease-fighting immune system may not attack the cancer because the cancer cells produce proteins that blind the immune system cells from identifying the cancer cells.
  • Immunotherapy works by interfering with the above process.
  • Generally immunotherapy is for advanced colon cancer.

Supportive (palliative) care

  • Palliative care is a specialized medical care which focuses on giving relief from pain and other signs and symptoms of a serious illness.
  • Palliative care aims to improve the quality of life for individuals with cancer and support their families.
  • When palliative care is used along with all of the other suitable treatments, individuals with cancer might feel better and live longer.

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