We answer your top questions about colon cancer — and how to beat it
Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women. According to the American Cancer Society, estimates there are 106,970 cases of colon and 46,050 cases of rectal cancer in the United States in 2023..
The good news, though, is that it is highly treatable, if caught early enough. Thanks to improved screening and treatment, there are now 1 million survivors of colorectal cancer living in the United States. Read on to get answers to your most common colon cancer questions.
Q: What is colon cancer? What causes it?
A: Colon cancer occurs in the large intestine (the colon), which is the lower part of the digestive system. Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon and rectum — the last few inches of the colon. These two cancers are sometimes referenced together as colorectal cancer. It’s not known what actually causes colon cancer, but we know it most often starts from polyps that grow on the inner lining of the colon.
Q: What are the symptoms of colorectal cancer?
A: According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer may cause one or more of these symptoms:
- A change in bowel habits that lasts more than a few days
- A feel you need to go to the bathroom that’s not relieved by having a bowel movement
- Rectal bleeding with bright red blood
- Blood in your stool
- Weakness and fatigue
- Unintended weight loss
Q: How do you test for colorectal cancer?
A: Testing for colorectal cancer can be done through two different types of tests: stool-based tests or visual examination of the colon and rectum, such as a colonoscopy. The American Cancer Society recommends that most people start regular colorectal cancer screenings at age 45.
Q: Is colon cancer treatable?
A: Yes. The kind of colon cancer treatment you’ll receive depends on where the tumor is located and the stage it’s in. Treatment for colon cancer may involve surgery, chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Talk to your doctor about treatment options available to you.
Q: Does OhioHealth treat colon cancer?
A: Colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancers diagnosed and treated at OhioHealth hospitals. Our general surgeons and colorectal surgeons have the expertise and training to care for patients with all stages of this cancer, offering the best possible treatment.
Q: What are the risk factors for developing colorectal cancer, and can they be prevented?
A: There are lifestyle related factors for colorectal cancer that have the opportunity for improvement. Being overweight or obese raises the risk of developing and dying from colorectal cancer. Not being physically active can also raise your risk. Diets high in red or processed meats, having a low vitamin D level, smoking, and moderate to heavy alcohol use all have links to increased colorectal cancer risk.
There are also factors beyond your control that can raise your risk. Being older, a personal or family history of colorectal polyps or colorectal cancer, or a personal history of inflammatory bowel disease can all increase your risk.
Q: Can colon cancer be inherited?
A: The risk for colon cancer increases if you have a parent, sibling or child with the disease. It increases even more if additional family members have it; however, this doesn’t always mean there’s a genetic syndrome causing the cancer in the family. Cancer in families can also result from shared exposure to environmental carcinogens (cancer-causing agents) and from similar dietary and lifestyle habits.
If you’re concerned about colon cancer in your family, contact the genetic experts in the OhioHealth Cancer Genetics Program. We can help you find answers.