Colon and rectal cancers are among the world's most commonly diagnosed cancers. They are more common in people over the age of 50, but can occur at any age. Because they are considered highly treatable when they are caught early, it is important to get regular colon cancer screenings after a certain age or if you are considered to be at high risk.

What are colon and rectal cancers?

Cancers that start in the colon (also known as the large intestine) or the rectum (the the final part of the large intestine) are referred to colorectal cancers. These cancers may also be specifically referred to as colon or rectal cancer depending on where they originate. They are often grouped together because these cancers have many features that are the same.

Cancer is the result of cells growing out of control while not dying off at the normal cell rate. Cells in just about any part of the body can become cancer. A cancer that starts in one part of the body can spread into another.

Types of colon and rectal cancer

There are a number of types of colon and rectal cancers:

  • adenocarcinomas, which account for over 95% of colon and rectal cancers. These cancers originate in the colon or rectum's mucus cells.
  • lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. While these most commonly start in your lymph nodes, they also sometimes occur in the colon or the rectum.
  • sarcomas, which start in the rectum or colon's blood vessels or muscle tissues.
  • carcinoid tumors, which originate in the colon and rectum's hormone-producing cells.
  • gastrointestinal stromal tumors, which can be found anywhere in your gastrointestinal system.

Causes of colon and rectal cancer

There are a number of risk factors that can increase your chances of developing colon or rectal cancer. These include:

  • being over 50. Colon and rectal cancers get more likely as you get older.
  • a poor diet. People who do not eat enough fiber but get too much animal protein and saturated fat have an increased risk.
  • overconsumption of alcohol
  • smoking
  • low levels of physical activity
  • carrying extra weight
  • having polyps found in your colon
  • a personal history of digestive problems like ulcerative colitis
  • if you are a woman, having a personal history of breast, uterine or ovarian cancer

Symptoms of colon and rectal cancer

Common symptoms include:

  • constipation
  • diarrhea
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • frequent defecation
  • fatigue
  • unplanned weight loss
  • a lump in your lower abdomen
  • blood in your stool

If you are experiencing colon or rectal cancer symptoms, it is important to talk to your doctor to get a firm diagnosis, as other maladies have similar symptoms.

Colon and rectal cancer treatment

Colon and rectal cancers are typically treated using a multi-modal approach. Your treatment may include:

  • radiation, a treatment that kills cancer cells and keeps them from reproducing.
  • chemotherapy. This approach uses medication to kill cancer cells. Research has shown that it significantly lowers your chances of a reoccurrence.
  • Surgery. Most colon and rectal cancer surgeries involve removing tumors and any lymph nodes that may be affected. If your cancer is caught early, surgery may be the sole treatment.

Colon and rectal cancers are considered highly treatable when they are caught early. If you have been referred for surgery for colon or rectal cancer, get in touch right away to discuss your treatment options.