Understanding colon cancer: prevention, detection, and treatment

Doctor's advice, Older Adults / Sanitas Medical Center

Learn about colon cancer: risk factors, symptoms, treatment, and the importance of Cologuard screening for early detection.  

Understanding colon cancer: prevention, detection, and treatment

Colon cancer is a serious health concern affecting millions of people worldwide. Understanding what colon cancer is, its risk factors, symptoms, and available screening methods like Cologuard can significantly improve early detection and increase survival rates. 


What is the Colon? 

The colon, also known as the large intestine, is part of the digestive system. Its primary function is to absorb water and nutrients from food and to form and expel waste from the body. The colon is divided into several parts, including the ascending colon, transverse colon, descending colon, and sigmoid colon. 


Colon Cancer vs. Rectal Cancer 

Colon cancer and rectal cancer are often grouped because they share similar features and treatments. There is a distinction between them based on their location within the digestive tract. Colon cancer originates in the colon, while rectal cancer starts in the rectum, the final portion of the colon before the anus. Both conditions fall under the category of colorectal cancer. 


How Common is Colon Cancer? 

Colon cancer is one of the most common types of cancer globally. According to the American Cancer Society, approximately 150,000 people are diagnosed with colon cancer each year in the United States alone. However, the good news is that with early detection and treatment, the survival rate is high. 


Who is at Risk? 

The exact cause of colon cancer is unknown, but several risk factors may contribute to its development. These include genetic mutations, inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, and inherited syndromes like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or Lynch syndrome.  

Other factors that may increase an individual's risk of colon cancer include: 

  • Age: Most cases of colon cancer occur in individuals over the age of 50. 
  • Family history: People with a family history of colon cancer or polyps are at a higher risk. 
  • Personal history: Individuals who have had colorectal cancer or polyps in the past are more likely to develop it again. 
  • Lifestyle factors: A diet high in red or processed meats, low in fiber, obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption may increase the risk. 


Prevention Strategies 

While not all cases of colon cancer can be prevented, certain lifestyle changes can reduce the risk for most people.  

  • Adopting a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while limiting red and processed meats. 
  • Engaging in regular physical activity. 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight. 
  • Limiting alcohol consumption. 
  • Quitting smoking. 

Regularly scheduling an annual wellness visit with your healthcare professional is highly recommended. The annual wellness visit is a preventive care visit focused on detecting health conditions before they appear. Recommended screenings and other health concerns are addressed during those visits. 


Recognizing Symptoms 

Colon cancer may not cause symptoms in its early stages, which makes regular screenings crucial. However, as the disease progresses, symptoms may include: 

  • Changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation. 
  • Blood in the stool or rectal bleeding. 
  • Abdominal discomfort or pain. 
  • Unexplained weight loss. 
  • Fatigue or weakness. 

Colon cancer symptoms in women and men are similar. Symptoms can vary among individuals, and some may not experience any symptoms at all, making regular screening crucial for early detection. 


Screening for Colon Cancer 

Screening for colon cancer is essential for early detection and improved prognosis. One noninvasive screening method gaining popularity is Cologuard. Cologuard is a stool DNA test that detects abnormal cells and blood in the stool, which may indicate the presence of colon cancer or precancerous polyps. The test is convenient and can be done at home, requiring only a stool sample to be sent to a laboratory for analysis. 

In addition to Cologuard, other colon cancer screening methods include: 

  • Colonoscopy: A procedure in which a flexible tube with a camera is inserted into the colon to examine its lining and remove polyps if found. 
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy: Similar to colonoscopy but only examines the lower part of the colon. 
  • Fecal occult blood test (FOBT): A test that checks for blood in the stool, which can be a sign of colon cancer or polyps. 

The recommended testing schedule for colorectal cancer screenings depends on various factors, including age, risk factors, and the type of screening test used. However, general guidelines from organizations such as the American Cancer Society recommend: 

  • Average Risk Individuals: Should begin screening at age 45 with either an annual high-sensitivity stool-based test (e.g., Cologuard) or a visual exam (e.g., colonoscopy) every 10 years.  
  • Increased Risk Individuals: Individuals with a family history of colorectal cancer or certain genetic conditions may need to start screening earlier and undergo more frequent testing. Those with a personal history of colorectal cancer or polyps may need more frequent screenings as well. 
  • After Age 75: Decisions about screening should be made based on overall health and life expectancy, considering individual preferences and potential risks and benefits. 

It's crucial to discuss screening options and schedules with your healthcare provider to determine the best approach based on individual risk factors and preferences. Colorectal cancer screening is just one of several health screenings that are an important part of staying healthy.  


Treatment Options 

Treatment for colon cancer depends on the stage of the disease and may include: 

  • Surgery: The main treatment for early-stage colon cancer involves removing the tumor and nearby lymph nodes. 
  • Chemotherapy: Medications that kill cancer cells or prevent them from growing may be used before or after surgery to shrink tumors or kill remaining cancer cells. 
  • Radiation therapy: High-energy beams such as X-rays or protons are used to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors. 



The prognosis for colon cancer varies depending on factors such as the stage at diagnosis, the individual's overall health, and the effectiveness of treatment. When detected early, before the cancer has spread, the five-year colon cancer survival rate is over 90%. Regular screening is crucial for early detection and better outcomes. 



Colon cancer is a prevalent but highly treatable disease when detected early. Understanding its risk factors, symptoms, and available screening methods like Cologuard can help individuals take proactive steps towards prevention and early detection. By adopting a healthy lifestyle and undergoing regular screenings, we can reduce the impact of colon cancer and save lives. 

Remember, early detection saves lives, so don't wait – call 1-844-665-4827 to schedule your annual wellness visit at a Sanitas Medical Center near you today. 

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