Colon cancer care at HonorHealth

Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. and the second-leading cause of all cancer-related deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that we'll see about 150,000 new cases diagnosed across the nation this year — 106,000 new colon cancers and 44,000 new rectal cancers. It's expected to cause about 52,000 deaths this year alone.

Despite these grim statistics, colorectal cancer is one of the few preventable cancers.

What is colorectal cancer?

Colorectal cancer occurs in the colon or rectum. The colon is the large intestine or large bowel, and the rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus.

Colon cancer is a malignant growth or tumor in the colon or rectum. Most colorectal cancers originate as polyps, which are precancerous growths that can become cancerous if not removed.

What are the primary signs and symptoms of colorectal cancer?

Because polyps are often slow-growing, you may not notice colorectal cancer signs right away. Some symptoms you may experience include:

  • Change in bowel habits (constipation/diarrhea)
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool
  • Abdominal pain
  • Feeling that stools are narrower than usual
  • Unexplained weight loss

How is colorectal cancer diagnosed?

Your HonorHealth doctor will typically diagnose this cancer by performing a colonoscopy. During your colonoscopy, your doctor will look for polyps and remove them.

Following the removal of a lesion, a biopsy will confirm whether it is benign or cancerous.

What are the screening options?

A variety of screening methods are available, so you and your doctor can pick the one that's right for you. The best screening test is the one that gets done.

Your doctor will help you determine if you need to be tested more frequently based on your risk factors.

Why is screening important?

Colon cancer is one of the few preventable cancers. Early detection is the key. The earlier you get screened, the better your chances are for a favorable outcome if something abnormal is found.

Who should be screened?

Initial screening colonoscopies are now recommended starting at age 45 and every 10 years after that, even if you aren’t experiencing any symptoms. If you have a strong family history of colon cancer or a family history of colon polyps, you should begin screening at age 40 and may need more frequent screenings. If your family member was diagnosed with colorectal cancer before age 60, you should begin screening at age 40 or younger, depending on the age of your relative when he or she was diagnosed.

After age 75, you and your doctor can discuss the merits of colorectal screening. Generally, doctors don’t recommend screening colonoscopy for those older than 86.

What are the stages of colorectal cancer?

Stage I: The cancer grows through the first few layers in the colon/rectum but not the lymph nodes or other organs.

Stage II: The cancer grows into the outermost layers of the colon or rectum and into nearby tissues or organs. The cancer does not spread to the lymph nodes or organs in other parts of the body.

Stage III: The cancer grows into many layers of the colon and spreads to nearby lymph nodes but not to organs in other parts of the body.

Stage IV: This is the most advanced stage of colorectal cancer. Cancer spreads to organs in other parts of the body, most often the lungs or the liver. The cancer may not grow completely through the wall of the colon or rectum, and may or may not affect the lymph nodes.

What are colorectal cancer treatment options?

Treatments vary depending on the stage of colon cancer.

Surgery is often the first step in the treatment of earlier stages of colon cancer. During surgery, your doctor removes the piece of the colon that contains the cancer as well as surrounding tissues to make sure that the cancer has not spread to other organs or areas of the body.

Chemotherapy may be required after surgery, especially if the cancer has spread. Chemo can decrease the chance of your cancer recurring.

For rectal cancer, the treatment is typically chemotherapy and radiation (for earlier stages), followed by surgery. Earlier stages often can be cured with only chemo and radiation.

According to the National Cancer Institute, the five-year survival rate is about 92% for people with stage I colon cancer and about 87% for people with stage I rectal cancer.

What are some of the risk factors for colorectal cancer?

  • 45 years of age and older
  • History of polyps or cancer
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Family history of colorectal cancer

How can you decrease your risk for colorectal cancer?

Almost half of colorectal cancers can be prevented. What can you do to prevent colon cancer or decrease your risk of forming polyps?

  • Get screened at age 45 and every 10 years after
  • Live a healthy lifestyle
  • Increase your physical activity
  • Avoid smoking tobacco
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Maintain a healthy weight, especially around your waist
  • Reduce the amount of red and processed meats you eat
  • Control your blood sugars if you’re diabetic, since diabetic patients have a higher risk of colon polyps

If you’re 50 to 59 years old, with a life expectancy of at least 10 years and not at an increased risk for bleeding, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends daily low-dose aspirin for primary prevention of colorectal cancer.

Does HonorHealth offer colorectal cancer support services?

HonorHealth specialists will help you or your loved one on the journey from treatment to recovery, beginning with a cancer care navigator. The navigator will help connect you with the oncologists, surgeons and support services you need along the way.

HonorHealth also offers a Colorectal Tumor Site Strategy Group, made up of gastroenterologists, colorectal surgeons, oncologists, radiologists, pathologists and nurses who meet monthly to discuss challenging cases and benefit patient care.

In addition to cancer treatment, HonorHealth Cancer Care offers patient support services such as individual nutritional counseling, genetic counseling and more.